A Detrital Zircon Test of Large-Scale Terrane Displacement Along the Arctic Margin of North America

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Detrital zircon U-Pb geochronology is one of the most common methods used to constrain the provenance of ancient sedimentary systems. Yet, its efficacy for precisely constraining paleogeographic reconstructions is often complicated by geological, analytical, and statistical uncertainties. To test the utility of this technique for reconstructing complex, margin-parallel terrane displacements, we compiled new and previously published U-Pb detrital zircon data (n = 7924; 70 samples) from Neoproterozoic–Cambrian marine sandstone-bearing units across the Porcupine shear zone of northern Yukon and Alaska, which separates the North Slope subterrane of Arctic Alaska from northwestern Laurentia (Yukon block). Contrasting tectonic models for the North Slope subterrane indicate it originated either near its current position as an autochthonous continuation of the Yukon block or from a position adjacent to the northeastern Laurentian margin prior to >1000 km of Paleozoic–Mesozoic translation. Our statistical results demonstrate that zircon U-Pb age distributions from the North Slope subterrane are consistently distinct from the Yukon block, thereby supporting a model of continent-scale strike-slip displacement along the Arctic margin of North America. Further examination of this dataset highlights important pitfalls associated with common methodological approaches using small sample sizes and reveals challenges in relying solely on detrital zircon age spectra for testing models of terranes displaced along the same continental margin from which they originated. Nevertheless, large-n detrital zircon datasets interpreted within a robust geologic framework can be effective for evaluating translation across complex tectonic boundaries.