As zircon U-Pb geochronology has become a leading method in sediment provenance studies and basin analysis over the past 20 years, the volume of detrital zircon data made available in published literature has enabled researchers to go beyond source-to-sink provenance studies to explore increasingly complex geologic problems. In this review, we utilize the growing body of detrital zircon data acquired from Jurassic-Paleocene forearc and foreland basin strata of the North American Cordillera to investigate the Mesozoic to earliest Cenozoic evolution of the arc and its associated basins between 28°N and 48°N. Our compilation includes 830 detrital zircon samples (101,898 individual ages) from 70 studies published between 2000 and 2020. For comparative purposes, we also compile 1307 igneous zircon U-Pb ages that characterize the magmatic history of the arc. We place primary emphasis on detrital zircon ages between 251 and 56 Ma that we infer to be uniquely derived from magmatic sources in the arc. Informed by existing knowledge of magmatic, structural, and sedimentological processes that acted on the orogen, we investigate spatial and temporal trends in these “arc-derived zircon” to establish a detrital record of arc magmatism, investigate source-to-sink relationships between the arc and adjacent basins, and discuss controls on sediment dispersal across the orogen.
Our review shows that compilations of detrital zircon data from the Cordilleran forearc and foreland basin systems are excellent proxies for arc magmatism because the basins are enriched in arc-derived zircon and compilations provide space- and time-integrated records of crystallization ages. The compiled detrital zircon data support a history of continuous arc magmatism throughout Mesozoic and earliest Cenozoic time, characterized by low-volume magmatism from Triassic-Early Jurassic time (~251–174 Ma) and episodic higher-volume magmatism from Middle Jurassic-Late Cretaceous time (~174–66 Ma). These trends elucidate the initiation and timing of magmatic events at the orogen-scale and corroborate our understanding of cyclic arc behavior.
Detrital zircon distributions are spatially and temporally variable both within and across basins, which we discuss relative to topographic development of the orogen and attendant responses of sediment dispersal systems. Detrital zircon distributions in the forearc signal rapid transfer of sediment from the arc to basins dominantly via fluvial processes. In contrast, detrital zircon distributions across the foreland reflect the presence of topographic barriers in the hinterland region of the arc that effectively isolated parts of the foreland. The presence of hinterland topography in turn highlights the important role of ash-fall events in delivering arc-derived zircon to the foreland, underscoring the need to consider ash-fall processes in paleodrainage reconstructions. These broad regional trends, and in general the close linkage between orogenic process and sediment dispersal, emerge from our compilation because it averages out much of the local variability observed in studies of more limited geographic or temporal extent.
Schwartz, T. M., Surpless, K. D., Colgan, J. P., Johnstone, S. A., & Holm-Denoma, C. S. (2021). Detrital zircon record of magmatism and sediment dispersal across the North American Cordilleran arc system (28–48°N). Earth-Science Reviews, 220, Article 103734. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.earscirev.2021.103734