U-Pb SHRIMP dating of uraniferous opals
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U-Pb and U-series analyses of four U-rich opal samples using sensitive high-resolution ion microprobe (SHRIMP) demonstrate the potential of this technique for the dating of opals with ages ranging from several tens of thousand years to millions of years. The major advantages of the technique, compared to the conventional thermal ionisation mass spectrometry (TIMS), are the high spatial resolution ( -20 μm), the ability to analyse in situ all isotopes required to determine both U-Pb and U-series ages, and a relatively short analysis time which allows obtaining a growth rate of opal as a result of a single SHRIMP session. There are two major limitations to this method, determined by both current level of development of ion probes and understanding of ion sputtering processes. First, sufficient secondary ion beam intensities can only be obtained for opal samples with U concentrations in excess of 20 μg/g. However, this restriction still permits dating of a large variety of opals. Second, U-Pb ratios in all analyses drifted with time and were only weakly correlated with changes in other ratios (such as U/UO). This drift, which is difficult to correct for, remains the main factor currently limiting the precision and accuracy of the U-Pb SHRIMP opal ages. Nevertheless, an assumption of similar behaviour of standard and unknown opals under similar analytical conditions allowed successful determination of ages with precisions of -10% for the samples investigated in this study. SHRIMP-based U-series and U-Pb ages are consistent with TIMS dating results of the same materials and known geological timeframes.
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