Response of surface processes to climatic change in the dunefields and Loess Plateau of North China during the late Quaternary

Huayu Lu, Joseph A. Mason, Thomas Stevens, Yali Zhou, Shuangwen Yi, Xiaodong Miao

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper draws on recent optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to evaluate the long-held assumption that dust accumulation rates in the Loess Plateau and the extent of active aeolian sand in the dunefields to the north have varied together over time, because both are controlled by the strength of the Asian monsoons and also possibly because the dunefields are proximal loess sources. The results show there is little evidence that high rates of loess accumulation coincided with well-dated episodes of extensive dune activity in the Mu Us, Otindag, and Horqin dunefields, at 11-8ka and 1-0ka. Explanations for the apparent lack of coupling include local variation in the trapping of dust and post-depositional preservation of the loess and dune sediments, in response to varying local environmental conditions. In addition, a substantial portion of the loess may be transported directly from source areas where dust emission has somewhat different climatic and geomorphic controls than aeolian sand activity within the dunefields. The results of this study cast doubt on the use of loess accumulation rate as a palaeoclimatic proxy at millennial timescale. The dunefield and loess stratigraphic records are interpreted as primarily recording changes in effective moisture at a local scale, but the timing of late Quaternary dune activity, along with a variety of other evidence, indicates that moisture changes in many of the drylands of northern China may not be in phase with precipitation in core regions of the Asian monsoons.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1590-1603
Number of pages14
JournalEarth Surface Processes and Landforms
Issue number12
StatePublished - Sep 30 2011


  • Asian monsoon
  • Dunefield
  • Dust accumulation rate
  • Late Quaternary
  • Loess
  • Loess provenance
  • Northern China
  • OSL dating

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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