A strontium isoscape of northern Australia

Publication Name

Earth System Science Data


Strontium isotopes (87Sr/86Sr) are useful to trace processes in the Earth sciences as well as in forensic, archaeological, palaeontological, and ecological sciences. As very few large-scale Sr isoscapes exist in Australia, we have identified an opportunity to determine 87Sr/86Sr ratios on archived fluvial sediment samples from the low-density National Geochemical Survey of Australia. The present study targeted the northern parts of Western Australia, the Northern Territory, and Queensland, north of 21.5°S. The samples were taken mostly from a depth of ~60-80cm in floodplain deposits at or near the outlet of large catchments (drainage basins). A coarse (<2mm) grain-size fraction was air-dried, sieved, milled, and digested (hydrofluoric acid+nitric acid followed by aqua regia) to release total Sr. The Sr was then separated by chromatography, and the 87Sr/86Sr ratio was determined by multicollector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. The results demonstrate a wide range of Sr isotopic values (0.7048 to 1.0330) over the survey area, reflecting a large diversity of source rock lithologies, geological processes, and bedrock ages. The spatial distribution of 87Sr/86Sr shows coherent (multi-point anomalies and smooth gradients), large-scale (>100km) patterns that appear to be broadly consistent with surface geology, regolith/soil type, and/or nearby outcropping bedrock. For instance, the extensive black clay soils of the Barkly Tableland define a >500km long northwest-southeast-trending unradiogenic anomaly (87Sr/86Sr <0.7182). Where sedimentary carbonate or mafic/ultramafic igneous rocks dominate, low to moderate 87Sr/86Sr values are generally recorded (medians of 0.7387 and 0.7422, respectively). Conversely, In proximity to the outcropping Proterozoic metamorphic basement of the Tennant, McArthur, Murphy, and Mount Isa geological regions, radiogenic 87Sr/86Sr values (>0.7655) are observed. A potential correlation between mineralization and elevated 87Sr/86Sr values in these regions needs to be investigated in greater detail. Our results to date indicate that incorporating soil/regolith Sr isotopes in regional, exploratory geoscience investigations can help identify basement rock types under (shallow) cover, constrain surface processes (e.g. weathering and dispersion), and, potentially, recognize components of mineral systems. Furthermore, the resulting Sr isoscape and future models derived therefrom can also be utilized in forensic, archaeological, palaeontological, and ecological studies that aim to investigate, for example, past and modern animal (including humans) dietary habits and migrations. The new spatial Sr isotope dataset for the northern Australia region is publicly available (de Caritat et al., 2022a; 10.26186/147473).

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Funding Sponsor

Australian Government



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