Although the Athabasca Oil Sands of Alberta, Canada, form one of the largest sources of hydrocarbons on the planet, and are a common topic in geopolitical debates, the origin of the sediment itself remained largely unknown. In this paper, Benyon et al. use detrital zircon uranium–lead (U-Pb) geochronology to examine the provenance of the McMurray Formation, the most significant Athabasca unit. The data reveal that the majority of the sediment in the Athabasca Oil Sands originally were derived from Appalachian sources in eastern North America. Nonetheless, several major tectonic provinces from across North America contributed sediment to these deposits (Canadian Shield, Appalachians, Cordillera), and their relative contributions changed through time. Collectively, these results emphasize the potentially important role of transcontinental sediment dispersal in these deposits, and other siliciclastic successions as well.
Provenance of the Cretaceous Athabasca Oil Sands, Canada: implications for continental-scale sediment transport by Christine Benyon, Andrew Leier, Dale A. Leckie, Andrew Webb, Stephen M. Hubbard, and George Gehrels