We used the sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe reverse-geometry (SHRIMP-RG) to date pedogenic opal using the 230Th-U system. Due to the high-spatial resolution of an ion microprobe (typically 30 ??m), regions of pure opal within a sample can be targeted and detrital material can be avoided. In addition, because the technique is non-destructive, the sample can be preserved for other types of analyses including electron microprobe or other stable isotope or trace element ion microprobe measurements. The technique is limited to material with U concentrations greater than ???50 ppm. However, the high spatial resolution, small sample requirements, and the ability to avoid detrital material make this technique a suitable technique for dating many Pleistocene deposits formed in semi-arid environments. To determine the versatility of the method, samples from several different deposits were analyzed, including silica-rich pebble coatings from pedogenic carbonate horizons, a siliceous sinter deposit, and opaline silica deposited as a spring mound. U concentrations for 30-??m-diameter spots ranged from 50 to 1000 ppm in these types of materials. The 230Th/232Th activity ratios also ranged from ???100 to 106, eliminating the need for detrital Th corrections that reduce the precision of traditional U-Th ages for many milligram- and larger-sized samples. In pedogenic material, layers of high-U opal (ca. 500 ppm) are commonly juxtaposed next to layers of calcite with much lower U concentrations (1-2 ppm). If these types of samples are not analyzed using a technique with the appropriate spatial resolution, the ages may be strongly biased towards the age of the opal. Comparison with standard TIMS (Thermal Ionization Mass Spectrometry) measurements from separate microdrilled samples suggests that although the analytical precision of the ion microprobe (SHRIMP-RG) measurements is less than TIMS, the high spatial resolution results in better accuracy in the age determination for finely layered or complex deposits. The ion microprobe approach also may be useful for pre-screening samples to determine the age and degree of post-depositional alteration, analyzing finely layered samples or samples with complex growth histories, and obtaining simultaneous measurements of trace elements.
Additional publication details
230Th-U dating of surficial deposits using the ion microprobe (SHRIMP-RG): A microstratigraphic perspective