Zirconium in rutile speedometry: New constraints on lower crustal cooling rates and residence temperatures

Terrence Blackburn, Nobumichi Shimizu, Samuel A. Bowring, Blair Schoene, Kevin H. Mahan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


The incorporation of zirconium into the mineral rutile (TiO 2) has been both empirically and experimentally calibrated as a measure of rutile crystallization temperatures (Watson et al., 2006). This temperature sensitive system has been employed as a geothermometer with applications to a number of different geologic settings and rock types. Experimentally measured kinetics for Zr diffusion in rutile (Cherniak et al., 2007) indicate that Zr can be lost to temperature dependent diffusion, warranting further investigation of the geologic significance of calculated temperatures. Coupling diffusion kinetics with numerical solutions to the diffusion equation provides a means to forward model the time and temperature dependency of the system. Modeled results indicate a strong dependency of Zr concentration in rutile on both: 1) initial cooling rate following high-temperature metamorphism/crystallization and 2) temperature and duration of long-term geologic residence. Zr concentrations measured in rutile from lower crustal xenoliths that resided at 25-45km depths for 2000My, reveal Zr concentrations in the approximate grain center that are consistent with temperatures measured by independent thermometers. Forward models for Zr diffusion show that preserving a Zr record of these initial temperatures in the center of a rutile crystal with a 50μm radius requires rapid cooling (>300°C/Ma) from magmatic/metamorphic temperatures followed by a long-term residence (2000 My) at temperatures <550°C. This provides a new way to determine cooling rates between 900 and 500°C and for constraining the temperature of the deep crust. Modeled temperature-time paths using combined rutile Zr and U-Pb geochronological data permit evaluation/refinement of published diffusion kinetics. Properly quantified, this system can be utilized as a high temperature geo-speedometer: a powerful tool for evaluating heat transfer rates at these very high and often unconstrained temperatures.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-240
Number of pages10
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
StatePublished - Feb 1 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Space and Planetary Science


  • Diffusion
  • High temperature thermochronology
  • Rutile
  • Xenoliths
  • Zirconium
  • Zr


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