EGU21-1095, updated on 03 Mar 2021
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2021. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Recycling of Sahara desert sand, a comprehensive provenance study approach.

Guido Pastore1, Thomas Baird2, Pieter Vermeesch2, Alberto Resentini1, and Eduardo Garzanti1
Guido Pastore et al.
  • 1Università Milano-Bicocca, Milano, Italy
  • 2University College London, London, UK

The Sahara is by far the largest hot desert on Earth. Its composite structure includes large dune fields hosted in sedimentary basins separated by elevated areas exposing the roots of Precambrian orogens or created by recent intraplate volcanism. Such an heterogeneity of landscapes and geological formations is contrasted by a remarkably homogeneous composition of dune sand, consisting almost everywhere of quartz and durable minerals such as zircon, tourmaline, and rutile.

We here present the first comprehensive provenance study of the Sahara Desert using a combination of multiple provenance proxies such as bulk-petrography, heavy-mineral, and detrital-zircon U–Pb geochronology. A set of statistical tools including Multidimensional Scaling, Correspondence Analysis, Individual Difference Scaling, and General Procrustes Analysis was applied to discriminate among sample groups with the purpose to reveal meaningful compositional patterns and infer sediment transport pathways on a geological scale.

Saharan dune fields are, with a few local exceptions, composed of pure quartz with very poor heavy-mineral suites dominated by durable zircon, tourmaline, and rutile. Some more feldspars, amphibole, epidote, garnet, or staurolite occur closer to basement exposures, and carbonate grains, clinopyroxene and olivine near a basaltic field in Libya. Relatively varied compositions also characterize sand along the Nile Valley and the southern front of the Anti-Atlas fold belt in Morocco. Otherwise, from the Sahel to the Mediterranean Sea and from the Nile River to the Atlantic Ocean, sand consists nearly exclusively of quartz and durable minerals. These have been concentrated through multiple cycles of erosion, deposition, and diagenesis during the long period of relative tectonic quiescence that followed the Neoproterozoic Pan-African orogeny, the last episode of major crustal growth in the region. The principal ultimate source of recycled sand is held to be represented by the thick blanket of quartz-rich sandstones that were deposited in the Cambro-Ordovician from the newly formed Arabian-Nubian Shield in the east to Mauritania in the west.

The composition and homogeneity of Saharan dune sand reflects similar generative processes and source rocks, and extensive recycling repeated through geological time after the end of the Neoproterozoic, which zircon-age spectra indicate as the last major event of crustal growth in the region. The geographic zircon-age distribution in daughter sands thus chiefly reflects the zircon-age distribution in parent sandstones, and hence sediment dispersal systems existing at those times rather than present wind patterns. This leads to the coclusion that, provenance studies based on detrital-zircon ages, the assumption that observed age patterns reflect transport pathways existing at the time of deposition rather than inheritance from even multiple and remote landscapes of the past thus needs to be carefully investigated and convincingly demonstrated rather than implicitly assumed.

How to cite: Pastore, G., Baird, T., Vermeesch, P., Resentini, A., and Garzanti, E.: Recycling of Sahara desert sand, a comprehensive provenance study approach., EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-1095,, 2021.

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