International Journal of Earth Sciences

, Volume 106, Issue 8, pp 2747–2769 | Cite as

The zircon evidence of temporally changing sediment transport—the NW Gondwana margin during Cambrian to Devonian time (Aoucert and Smara areas, Moroccan Sahara)

  • Andreas Gärtner
  • Nasrrddine Youbi
  • Michel Villeneuve
  • Anja Sagawe
  • Mandy Hofmann
  • Abdelkader Mahmoudi
  • Moulay Ahmed Boumehdi
  • Ulf Linnemann
Original Paper


Detrital zircon provenance studies are an established tool to develop palaeogeographic models, mostly based on zircon of siliciclastic rocks and isotope data. But zircon is more than just istopes and features well definable morphological characteristics. The latter may indicate single grain transport histories independent of the individual grade of concordance. This additional tool for palaeogeoraphic reconstructions was tested on zircon from siliciclastic and carbonate sedimentary rocks of Palaeozoic age from the Aoucert and Smara areas of the Souttoufides, while findings of zircon in limestone generally open new archives for sedimentary provenance analysis. The morphologies—length, width, roundness, grain surfaces—of 834 detrital zircons from sediments of allochthonous Cambrian, and (par-)autochthonous Ordovician, and Devonian units were studied, while 772 of them were analysed for their U–Th–Pb isotopes by LA-ICP-MS. Mesoproterozoic zircon contents of more than 10% in the Cambrian sediments exclude the West African Craton (WAC) as exclusive source area. Thus, at least one additional external source is suggested. This is likely the western Adrar Souttouf Massif with its significant Mesoproterozoic zircon inheritance, or comparable, yet unknown sources. Decreasing Mesoproterozoic zircon age populations in Ordovician sediments are thought to be linked to the rifting of the terranes in the course of the Rheic Ocean opening and a predominant supply of WAC detritus. The Devonian sediments likely contain reworked material from the Cambrian siliciclastics, which is shown by the zircon age distribution pattern and the zircon morphologies. Therefore, multiple shifts in the direction of sedimentary transport are indicated.


U–Th–Pb geochronology Zircon morphology Zircon from limestone West African Craton Palaeozoic sediment transport 



This study was supported by partial funding provided by the Academy Hassan II for Science and Technology of the Kingdom of Morocco through Project No. SDU 02/2012–2015 awarded to N.Y. We thank the civil and military authorities in Dakhla, Aoucert, and Tichla (Southern Morocco), which facilitated our stay and our movement in these difficult areas. Thanks also to A. El Archi (Chouaïb Doukkali University), E.-C. Rjimati, and A. Zemmouri (Geological Survey of Morocco) for advices and guidance in the field. A. Michard and an unknown reviewer made helpful comments, which improved the quality of the manuscript. This publication is a contribution to IGCP Project No. 648: Supercontinent Cycles and Global Geodynamics.

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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Museum für Mineralogie und Geologie, Sektion Geochronologie, GeoPlasma LabSenckenberg Naturhistorische Sammlungen DresdenDresdenGermany
  2. 2.Department of Geology, Faculty of Sciences-SemlaliaCadi Ayyad UniversityMarrakechMorocco
  3. 3.Instituto Dom Luiz, Faculdade de CiênciasUniversidade de LisboaLisboaPortugal
  4. 4.CEREGE, Centre Saint-CharlesAix-Marseille UniversitéMarseilleFrance
  5. 5.Department of Geology, Faculty of SciencesMoulay Ismail UniversityMeknesMorocco

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