The Future of Fission-Track Thermochronology

  • Andrew GleadowEmail author
  • Barry Kohn
  • Christian Seiler
Part of the Springer Textbooks in Earth Sciences, Geography and Environment book series (STEGE)


The methods of fission-track (FT) thermochronology, based on a combination of the external detector method, zeta calibration against independent age standards and measurements of horizontal confined track lengths, have undergone relatively little change over the last 25 years. This conventional approach has been highly successful and the foundation for important thermal history inversion methods, supporting an expanding range of geological applications. Several important new technologies have emerged in recent years, however, that are likely to have a disruptive effect on this relatively stable approach, including LA-ICP-MS analysis for 238U concentrations, new motorised digital microscopes and new software systems for microscope control, digital imaging and image analysis. These technologies allow for new image-based and highly automated approaches to FT dating and eliminate the need for neutron irradiations. Together they are likely to have a major influence on the future of FT analysis and gradually replace the older, highly laborious manual methods. Automation will facilitate the acquisition of larger and more comprehensive data sets than was previously possible, assist with standardisation and have important implications for training and distributed analysis based on image sharing. Track length measurements have been more difficult to automate, but 3D measurements and automated semi-track length measurements are likely to become part of future FT methods. Other important trends suggest that FT analysis will increasingly be combined with other isotopic dating methods on the same grains, and multi-system methods on coexisting minerals, to give much more comprehensive accounts of the thermal evolution of rocks. There are still a range of important fundamental issues in FT analysis that are poorly understood, such as a full understanding of the effects of composition and radiation damage on the annealing properties of different minerals, which are likely to be fruitful areas for future research in this field.



Many of the ideas presented here have emerged from discussions with members of our research group at the University of Melbourne over many years, and we particularly thank David Belton, Rod Brown, Asaf Raza and Ling Chung for their input at various times. The group has received sustained funding to support its work over many years from the Australian Research Council (ARC) including grant LP0348767 with Autoscan Systems Pty Ltd which supported the initial development of automatic fission track counting. We also thank our software engineers, Stewart Gleadow, Artem Nicolayevski, Josh Torrance, Sumeet Ekbote and Tom Church who have implemented so much of our automated fission track analysis system. The group has also received support from the AuScope Program funded by the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy and the Education Investment Fund, which has provided dedicated LA-ICP-MS facilities and ongoing maintenance and operational support. Major equipment purchases for microscopes and laser ablation were also provided by ARC grant LE0882818. We thank Pieter Vermeesch and Noriko Hasebe for their very helpful reviews, which have significantly improved the manuscript.


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© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Earth SciencesUniversity of MelbourneVictoriaAustralia

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