- © The Mineralogical Society Of America
The thermochronometric systems discussed in this volume broadly share three features: parent isotopes, daughter products, and one or more time-dependent, temperature-sensitive processes by which daughter products are altered or lost. If these processes can be measured in the laboratory, and their behavior confidently extrapolated to geological time scales, it becomes possible to construct a forward model of the system that predicts how a given instance of it will evolve assuming a particular starting arrangement and subsequent time-temperature history.
Once a forward model has been created and verified, it then becomes possible to apply it in the inverse sense: given a measured ending condition and an assumed starting one, find the intervening time-temperature history. In general, because of information loss, limited precision of measurements, and lack of system uniqueness, more than one history is consistent with a given ending condition. As a result, an inverse model solution usually consists of a set of thermal histories that are consistent with the measured data, as judged by some statistical criterion.
This chapter will concentrate on two low-temperature thermochronometers: fission-track (primarily for apatite) and (U-Th)/He. All of the calculations described here are implemented in a computer program called “HeFTy,” which is available with this volume (see Ehlers et al. 2005).
A theme that will be touched upon throughout this chapter is that forward and inverse models are only as good as the data and assumptions behind them. Although this principle of course holds for all scientific investigations, it is often obscured when such details are packaged in user-friendly software that produces publication-ready graphics.
FORWARD MODELING OF THE FISSION-TRACK SYSTEM
Fission tracks form continuously over time at a rate dependent solely upon the concentration of uranium present. Earlier-formed fission tracks tend to be shorter than later-formed tracks, as they will have had more time to anneal, and may have experienced …