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Nanoscale processes of trace element mobility in metamorphosed zircon


Several examples of zircon grains from high- to ultrahigh-pressure (UHP) and ultrahigh-temperature (UHT) metapelites exhibit a characteristic, yet atypical, core–rim interface domain < 5-μm wide observed in cathodoluminescence (CL) imaging. The interface domain is located immediately against the magmatic core and is comprised of an irregular, 0–2-μm wide, CL-dark domain that is rimmed by a complex, 0–5-μm wide, CL-bright domain with cuspate margins. The outer margin of the interface domain is rimmed by intermediate-CL zircon with low contrast zoning. To characterize the nature of the interface domain and to identify mechanisms of trace element mobility in metamorphosed zircon, we analyzed several specimens prepared from zircon from the Rhodope Metamorphic Complex (eastern Greece) and the Goshen Dome (western Massachusetts, USA) via atom probe tomography (APT). The data reveal three types of geochemical anomalies, each with a unique morphology. (1) Toroidal clusters with high concentrations of Pb (+ Y, Al) are found exclusively within the core of the Rhodope grain. These clusters are interpreted as decorated dislocation loops that formed during metamorphism and annealing of radiation damage to the lattice. Geochronological and geochemical data support this interpretation. (2) Complex, cross-cutting planar and linear features with anomalous concentrations of Y + P + Yb or U are spatially restricted to the core–rim interface domain; these features do not correlate with inherited geochemical variation (oscillatory zoning) or deformation-induced microstructures. Instead, the planar features likely formed in response to an interface-coupled dissolution–reprecipitation reaction that propagated into the crystal during metamorphism. The observed cross-cutting relationships are the product of either multiple events or complexity of the process that originally formed the domains. (3) Ellipsoidal features with high concentrations of Y + P + Yb (+ Al) are found exclusively within the high-Y + P + Yb planar features. These features are interpreted as the product of spinodal decomposition that occurred during exhumation as the zircon passed the solvus where local equilibria favored nm-scale exsolution to minimize the Gibbs free energy. The presence of multiple types of geochemical features in these examples indicates that trace element mobility in zircon is driven by multiple processes over the course of orogenesis. Given that these atypical domains are apparently restricted to zircon metamorphosed at UHT and (U)HP conditions, their presence may represent a marker of metamorphism at very high-grade conditions.

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The authors thank D. Rubatto for editorial handling. Two anonymous reviewers provided helpful comments that improved the manuscript. This work was supported in part by NSF EAR-1650054 to Peterman and Bowdoin College Research Funds. The SEM facility at Bowdoin was supported by NSF MRI-1530963 to E.M. Peterman and R.J. Beane. The Geosciene Atom Probe Facility is supported by ARC CE11E0070 and SIEF RI13-01 to S.M. Reddy. The Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility under the auspices of the National Resource Sciences Precinct—a collaboration between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, Curtin University, and the University of Western Australia—was supported by the Science and Industry Endowment Fund. The UltraChron development project was supported by NSF EAR-0004077 and NSF EAR-0549639 to M.L. Williams and M.J. Jercinovic at the University of Massachusetts, and collaboratively by CAMECA. The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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Peterman, E.M., Reddy, S.M., Saxey, D.W. et al. Nanoscale processes of trace element mobility in metamorphosed zircon. Contrib Mineral Petrol 174, 92 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00410-019-1631-1

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  • Zircon
  • Atom probe tomography
  • Nanoscale
  • Interface-coupled dissolution–reprecipitation
  • Trace element geochemistry
  • Metamorphism