A Bulk Annealing and Dissolution-Based Zircon Concentration Method for Mafic Rocks

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Zircon geochronology is applied to a variety of geological problems to precisely and accurately date rocks via U–Pb decay. Zircon is most abundant and easily recovered in intermediate to felsic rocks, including the silicic eruptives of bimodal large igneous provinces, or fractionated granophyres in mafic-ultramafic complexes. However, the concentration of zircon crystals by conventional density and magnetic separation methods is inefficient and/or ineffective for medium- to fine-grained mafic rocks, due to their rarity, small grain size, common association with ferromagnetic minerals, and/or occlusion by paramagnetic modal minerals. To address these shortcomings, we have developed and tested a zircon concentration method that is based on a combination of physical separation and chemical dissolution. The sample is initially ground to sand-size particles and heavy minerals concentrated via density on a water table. The heavy mineral-rich fraction is annealed by heating at 900 ◦C for 60 h, and then put through a series of acid digestions: aqua-regia, hydrofluoric acid, aqua-regia and finally hydrochloric acid. This new method allows the concentration of an almost pure zircon aliquot, since zircon is one of just a few minerals that can survive this bulk rock acid attack. The result is an efficient extraction of analytically viable amounts of zircon for U–Pb geochronology using tens of grams of rock sample, representing an increase up to a hundred times the recovery rates of conventional separation techniques for zircon concentration.