04 Mar 2022
04 Mar 2022
Status: a revised version of this preprint is currently under review for the journal GChron.

An algorithm for U-Pb geochronology by secondary ion mass spectrometry

Pieter Vermeesch Pieter Vermeesch
  • London Geochronology Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom

Abstract. Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry (SIMS) is a widely used technique for in-situ U–Pb geochronology of accessory minerals. Existing algorithms for SIMS data reduction and error propagation make a number of simplifying assumptions that degrade the precision and accuracy of the resulting U–Pb dates. This paper uses an entirely new approach to SIMS data processing that introduces the following improvements over previous algorithms. First, it treats SIMS measurements as compositional data, using logratio statistics. This means that, unlike existing algorithms, (a) its isotopic ratio estimates are guaranteed to be strictly positive numbers, (b) identical results are obtained regardless of whether data are processed as normal ratios (e.g. 206Pb / 238U) or reciprocal ratios (e.g. 238U / 206Pb), and (c) its uncertainty estimates account for the positive skewness of measured isotopic ratio distributions. Second, the new algorithm accounts for the Poissonian noise that characterises Secondary Electron Multipliers (SEM). By fitting the SEM signals using the method of maximum likelihood, it naturally handes low intensity ion beams, in which zero counts signals are common. Third, the new algorithm casts the data reduction process in a matrix format, and thereby captures all sources of systematic uncertainty. These include significant inter-sample error correlations that arise from the commonly used Pb/U-UO(2)/U calibration curve. The new algorithm has been implemented in a new software package called simplex. simplex was written in R and can be used either online, offline or from the command line. The program can handle SIMS data from both Cameca and SHRIMP instruments.

Pieter Vermeesch

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'A Solid Foundation for Accessible Best Practice in SIMS U-Pb Geochronology Data Reduction', Morgan Williams, 11 Apr 2022
    • AC1: 'Reply on RC1', Pieter Vermeesch, 06 May 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on gchron-2022-4', Nicole Rayner, 21 Apr 2022
    • AC2: 'Reply on RC2', Pieter Vermeesch, 06 May 2022

Pieter Vermeesch

Pieter Vermeesch


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Short summary
Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer (SIMS) is the oldest and most sensitive analytical technique for in-situ U-Pb geochronology. This paper introduces a new algorithm for SIMS data reduction that treats the data as 'compositional data', which means that the relative abundances of 204Pb, 206Pb, 207Pb and 238Pb are processed within a tetrahedral data space or 'simplex'. The new method is implemented in an eponymous computer program that is compatible with the two dominant types of SIMS instruments.