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U–Pb zircon provenance of Triassic sandstones, western Swiss Alps: implications for geotectonic history

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The provenance of Triassic Vieux Emosson Formation, autochthonous sediments of the Aiguilles Rouges massif (External Alps), was determined from U–Pb ages of detrital zircons. In addition, two samples of Late Carboniferous sandstones from the Salvan‐Dorénaz basin were included to extend the database of potential source rocks. Overall, age data from the four samples are largely comparable, each with a wide range of ages, indicating similar source rocks. The compositionally and texturally immature strata of the Vieux Emosson Formation suggest a local sediment source. However, not all detrital zircons can be accounted for by the ages of the local polymetamorphic pre-Mesozoic basement, which consists mainly of paragneiss, Ordovician orthogneiss and Late Carboniferous, Variscan-related, magmatic and sedimentary rocks. Ordovician zircons were common in the samples, but Late Carboniferous zircons were only abundant in one sample. Early Cambrian and older zircons were likely recycled from the paragneiss. Recycled zircons primarily represent Cadomian orogenic events (~ 550–650 Ma); older zircons are from eastern Gondwana and West African craton sources. Abundant late Cambrian (~ 500 Ma) and Silurian (~ 425 Ma) zircons likely represent Cadomian rifting and the magmatic events that produced the Ordovician orthogneiss, respectively. Permian zircons were only found in one Triassic sample, and are possibly related to magmatic activity associated with post-Variscan extension. The age data of the detrital zircons in the Triassic Vieux Emosson Formation and in the sandstones from the Late Carboniferous Salvan-Dorénaz basin indirectly dates the source rocks and for the first time confirms Cadomian basement in the Aiguilles Rouges massif. Source rocks for the Silurian, Permian, and to a lesser degree, late Cambrian zircons are not documented in the local basement, and either have been eroded away or are now located to the southeast beneath Penninic nappes.

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We thank Basil Thüring, Sylvan Thüring, Henrik Klein, Petra Eggenschwiler, Sylvia Schmutz, and Justin Ahern for assistance in the field. Andreas Wetzel provided MW support at the University of Basel during summer visits. Funding for MW was provided by Connecticut State Universities–AAUP research grants. The Natural History Museum Basel provided financial support for field work with its “Fonds für Lehre & Forschung”. Armin Zeh is thanked for his help with the U–Pb LA-ICP-MS zircon dating at the Institute of Geowissenschaften at the Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main. Finally, we thank J.F. von Raumer and D. Bussien Grosjean for their constructive reviews as well as Editor W. Winkler, for his helpful handling of the manuscript.

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Wizevich, M.C., Meyer, C.A., Linnemann, U. et al. U–Pb zircon provenance of Triassic sandstones, western Swiss Alps: implications for geotectonic history. Swiss J Geosci 112, 419–434 (2019).

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  • Detrital zircon
  • U–Pb dating
  • Vieux Emosson Formation
  • Aiguilles Rouges massif
  • Triassic
  • Sediment provenance