Lattice distortion in a zircon population and its effects on trace element mobility and U-Th-Pb isotope systematics: Examples from the Lewisian Gneiss Complex, northwest Scotland

J.M. MacDonald, J. Wheeler, E. Mariani, D. Tatham, S.L. Harley, K.M. Goodenough, Q. Crowley

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Zircon is a key mineral in geochemical and geochronological studies in a range of geological settings as it is mechanically and chemically robust. However, distortion of its crystal lattice can facilitate enhanced diffusion of key elements such as U and Pb. Electron backscatter diffraction (EBSD) analysis of ninety-nine zircons from the Lewisian Gneiss Complex (LGC) of northwest Scotland has revealed five zircons with lattice distortion. The distortion can take the form of gradual bending of the lattice or division of the crystal into subgrains. Zircon lattices are distorted because of either post-crystallisation plastic distortion or growth defects. Three of the five distorted zircons, along with many of the undistorted zircons in the population, were analysed by ion microprobe to measure U and Pb isotopes, Ti and REEs. Comparison of Th/U ratio, Pb/Pb age, REE profile and Ti concentration between zircons with and without lattice distortion suggests that the distortion is variably affecting the concentration of these trace elements and isotopes within single crystals, within samples and between localities. REE patterns vary heterogeneously, sometimes relatively depleted in heavy REEs or lacking a Eu anomaly. Ti-in-zircon thermometry records temperatures that were either low (~700 °C) or high (>900 °C) relative to undistorted zircons. One distorted zircon records apparent Pb/Pb isotopic ages (-3.0 to +0.3 % discordance) in the range of ~2,420-2,450 Ma but this does not correlate with any previously dated tectonothermal event in the LGC. Two other distorted zircons give discordant ages of 2,331 ± 22 and 2,266 ± 40 Ma, defining a discordia lower intercept within error of a late amphibolite-facies tectonothermal event. This illustrates that Pb may be mobilised in distorted zircons at lower metamorphic grade than in undistorted zircons. These differences in trace element abundances and isotope systematics in distorted zircons relative to undistorted zircons are generally interpreted to have been facilitated by subgrain walls. Trace elements and isotopes would have moved from undistorted lattice into these subgrain walls as their chemical potential is modified due to the presence of the dislocations which make up the subgrain wall. Subgrain walls provided pathways for chemical exchange between crystal and surroundings. Only five per cent of zircons in this population have lattice distortion suggesting it will not have a major impact on zircon geochronology studies, particularly as three of the five distorted zircons are from strongly deformed rocks not normally sampled in such studies. However, this does suggest there may be a case for EBSD analysis of zircons prior to geochemical analysis when zircons from highly deformed rocks are to be investigated.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)21-41
Number of pages21
JournalContributions to Mineralogy and Petrology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2013


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