Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Uranium-series comminution ages of continental sediments: Case study of a Pleistocene alluvial fan
- Author(s): Lee, Victoria E.
- et al.
Obtaining quantitative information about the timescales associated with sediment transport, storage, and deposition in continental settings is important but challenging. The uranium-series comminution age method potentially provides a universal approach for direct dating of Quaternary detrital sediments, and can also provide estimates of the sediment transport and storage timescales. (The word "comminution" means "to reduce to powder," reflecting the start of the comminution age clock as reduction of lithic parent material below a critical grain size threshold of ~;;50 mu m.) To test the comminution age method as a means to date continental sediments, we applied the method to drill-core samples of the glacially-derived Kings River Fan alluvial deposits in central California. Sediments from the 45 m core have independently-estimated depositional ages of up to ~;;800 ka, based on paleomagnetism and correlations to nearby dated sediments. We characterized sequentially-leached core samples (both bulk sediment and grain size separates) for U, Nd, and Sr isotopes, grain size, surface texture, and mineralogy. In accordance with the comminution age model, where 234U is partially lost from small sediment grains due to alpha recoil, we found that (234U/238U) activity ratios generally decrease with age, depth, and specific surface area, with depletions of up to 9percent relative to radioactive equilibrium. The resulting calculated comminution ages are reasonable, although they do not exactly match age estimates from previous studies and also depend on assumptions about 234U loss rates. The results indicate that the method may be a significant addition to the sparse set of available tools for dating detrital continental sediments, following further refinement. Improving the accuracy of the method requires more advanced models or measurements for both the recoil loss factor fa and weathering effects. We discuss several independent methods for obtaining fa on individual samples that may be useful for future studies.