Skip to main content Accessibility help

Holocene loess deposition and soil formation as competing processes, Matanuska Valley, Southern Alaska

  • Daniel R. Muhs (a1), John P. McGeehin (a2), Jossh Beann (a1) and Eric Fisher (a1)


Although loess–paleosol sequences are among the most important records of Quaternary climate change and past dust deposition cycles, few modern examples of such sedimentation systems have been studied. Stratigraphic studies and 22 new accelerator mass spectrometry radiocarbon ages from the Matanuska Valley in southern Alaska show that loess deposition there began sometime after ∼6500 14C yr B.P. and has continued to the present. The silts are produced through grinding by the Matanuska and Knik glaciers, deposited as outwash, entrained by strong winds, and redeposited as loess. Over a downwind distance of ∼40 km, loess thickness, sand content, and sand-plus-coarse-silt content decrease, whereas fine-silt content increases. Loess deposition was episodic, as shown by the presence of paleosols, at distances >10 km from the outwash plain loess source. Stratigraphic complexity is at a maximum (i.e. the greatest number of loesses and paleosols) at intermediate (10–25 km) distances from the loess source. Surface soils increase in degree of development with distance downwind from the source, where sedimentation rates are lower. Proximal soils are Entisols or Inceptisols, whereas distal soils are Spodosols. Ratios of mobile CaO, K2O, and Fe2O3 to immobile TiO2 show decreases in surface horizons with distance from the source. Thus, as in China, where loess deposition also takes place today, eolian sedimentation and soil formation are competing processes. Study of loess and paleosols in southern Alaska shows that particle size can vary over short distances, loess deposition can be episodic over limited time intervals, and soils developed in stabilized loess can show considerable variability under the same vegetation.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Fax: (303) 236-5349.E-mail address: (D.R. Muhs).


Hide All
Ager, T.A, (1983). Holocene vegetational history of Alaska. Wright, H.E Jr., Late Quaternary Environments of the United States. vol. 2, The Holocene. Univ. of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis., 128141.
Ager, T.A, Brubaker, L, (1985). Quaternary palynology and vegetational history of Alaska. Bryant, V.M Jr., Holloway, R.G, Pollen Records of Late-Quaternary North American Sediments. American Association of Stratigraphic Palynologists Foundation, Dallas, TX., 353383.
Aide, M.T, Pavich, Z, (2002). Rare earth element mobilization and migration in a Wisconsin Spodosol. Soil Science. 167, 680691.
Alexander, E.B, Burt, R, (1996). Soil development on moraines of Mendenhall Glacier, southeast Alaska: 1. The moraines and soil morphology. Geoderma. 72, 117.
Baker, R.G, Rhodes, R.S, Schwert, D.P, Ashworth, A.C, Frest, T.J, Hallberg, G.R, Janssens, J.A, (1986). A full-glacial biota from southeastern Iowa, USA. Journal of Quaternary Science. 1, 91107.
Baker, R.G, Sullivan, A.E, Hallberg, G.R, Horton, D.G, (1989). Vegetational changes in western Illinois during the onset of late Wisconsinan glaciation. Ecology. 70, 13631376.
Barnes, F.F., (1962). Geologic map of Lower Matanuska Valley, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Investigations Map I-0359, scale 1:63,360.
Birkeland, P.W, (1999). Soils and Geomorphology. Oxford Univ. Press, New York.
Clark, M.H, Kautz, D.R, (1998). Soil Survey of Matanuska–Susitna Valley Area, Alaska. U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
Davidson, D.T, Roy, C.J, (1959). The geology and engineering characteristics of some Alaskan soils. Iowa State Univ. Bull.. 186, 199.
Fontana, M.R., (1988). Holocene tephrochronology of the Matanuska Valley, Alaska. Unpublished M.S. thesis, Univ. of Alaska, Fairbanks.
Forester, R.M, Delorme, L.D, Ager, T.A, (1989). A lacustrine record of late Holocene climate change from south-central Alaska. American Geophysical Union, Geophysical Monogr.. 55, 3340.
Hayward, R.K, Lowell, T.V, (1993). Variations in loess accumulation rates in the mid-continent, United States, as reflected by magnetic susceptibility. Geology. 21, 821824.
Hopkins, D.M, (1963). Geology of the Imuruk Lake area, Seward Peninsula, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Bull. 1141-C.
Jones, R.L, Beavers, A.H, (1966). Weathering in surface horizons of Illinois soils. Soil Science Society of America Proceedings. 30, 621624.
Mason, J.A, Jacobs, P.M, (1998). Chemical and particle size evidence for addition of fine dust to soils of the midwestern United States. Geology. 26, 11351138.
Mason, J.A, Jacobs, P.M, Greene, R.S.B, Nettleton, W.D, (2003). Sedimentary aggregates in the Peoria Loess of Nebraska, USA. Catena. 53, 377397.
McGeehin, J, Burr, G.S, Jull, A.J.T, Reines, D, Gosse, J, Davis, P.T, Muhs, D, Southon, J.R, (2001). Stepped-combustion 14C dating of sediment: a comparison with established techniques. Radiocarbon. 43, 255261.
Muhs, D.R, Ager, T.A, Been, J, Bradbury, J.P, Dean, W.E, (2003a). A late Quaternary record of eolian silt deposition in a maar lake, St. Michael Island, western Alaska. Quaternary Research. 60, 110122.
Muhs, D.R, Ager, T.A, Begét, J.B, (2001a). Vegetation and paleoclimate of the last interglacial period, central Alaska. Quaternary Science Reviews. 20, 4161.
Muhs, D.R, Ager, T.A, Bettis, E.A III, McGeehin, J, Been, J.M, Begét, J.E, Pavich, M.J, Stafford, T.W Jr., Stevens, D.S.P, (2003b). Stratigraphy and paleoclimatic significance of late Quaternary loess–paleosol sequences of the Last Interglacial–Glacial cycle in central Alaska. Quaternary Science Reviews. 22, 19471986.
Muhs, D.R, Bettis, E.A III, (2003). Quaternary loess–paleosol sequences as examples of climate-driven sedimentary extremes. Chan, M.A, Archer, A.W, Extreme Depositional Environments: Mega End Members in Geologic Time. Geological Society of America Special Paper. vol. 370, Geological Society of America, Boulder, Colorado., 5374.
Muhs, D.R, Bettis, E.A III, Been, J, McGeehin, J, (2001b). Impact of climate and parent material on chemical weathering in loess-derived soils of the Mississippi River Valley. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 65, 17611777.
Péwé, T.L, (1975). Quaternary Geology of Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 835.
Ping, C.L, (1987). Soil temperature profiles of two Alaskan soils. Soil Science Society of America Journal. 51, 10101018.
Porter, S.C, (2001). Chinese loess record of monsoon climate during the last glacial–interglacial cycle. Earth-Science Reviews. 54, 115128.
Pye, K, Tsoar, H, (1987). The mechanics and geological implications of dust transport and deposition in deserts with particular reference to loess formation and sand dune diagenesis in the northern Negev, Israel. Frostick, L, Reid, I, Desert Sediments: Ancient and Modern. Geological Society Special Publication. vol. 35, Unwin Hyman, London., 139156.
Reger, R.D., Pinney, D.S., Burke, R.M., Wiltse, M.A., (1996). Catalog and initial analyses of geologic data related to middle to late Quaternary deposits. Cook Inlet region, Alaska. State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys Report of Investigations 95-6, 1–188.
Reger, R.D, Updike, R.G, (1983). Upper Cook Inlet region and the Matanuska Valley. Péwé, T.L, Reger, R.D, Guidebook to Permafrost and Quaternary Geology along the Richardson and Glenn Highways between Fairbanks and Anchorage, Alaska. State of Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Guidebook. vol. 1, Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, Fairbanks, Alaska., 185259.
Rieger, S, Juve, R.L, (1961). Soil development in recent loess in the Matanuska Valley, Alaska. Soil Science Society of America Proceedings. 25, 243248.
Riehle, J.R, (1985). A reconnaissance of the major Holocene tephra deposits in the upper Cook Inlet region, Alaska. Journal of Volcanology and Geothermal Research. 26, 3774.
Rousseau, D.D, Antoine, P, Hatté, C, Lang, A, Zöller, L, Fontugne, M, Ben Othman, D, Luck, J.M, Moine, O, Labonne, M, Bentaleb, I, Jolly, D, (2002). Abrupt millennial climatic changes from Nussloch (Germany) Upper Weichselian eolian records during the Last Glaciation. Quaternary Science Reviews. 21, 15771582.
Ruhe, R.V, (1969a). Application of pedology to Quaternary research. Pawluk, S, Pedology and Quaternary Research. National Research Council of Canada and University of Alberta, Edmonton., 123.
Ruhe, R.V, (1969b). Quaternary Landscapes in Iowa. Iowa State University Press, Ames.
Ruhe, R.V, Miller, G.A, Vreeken, W.J, (1971). Paleosols, loess sedimentation and soil stratigraphy. Yaalon, D.H, Paleopedology—Origin, Nature and Dating of Paleosols. Israel Universities Press, Jerusalem., 4159.
Sainsbury, C.L., (1972). Geologic Map of the Teller Quadrangle, Western Seward Peninsula, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Miscellaneous Geologic Investigations Map I-685, scale 1:250,000.
Schaetzl, R.J, Isard, S.A, (1996). Regional-scale relationships between climate and strength of podzolization in the Great Lakes region, North America. Catena. 28, 4769.
Schoephorster, D.B, (1968). Soil Survey of Matanuska Valley Area, Alaska. U.S. Soil Conservation Service, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC.
Schmoll, H.R, Yehle, L.A, Updike, R.G, (1999). Summary of Quaternary geology of the Municipality of Anchorage, Alaska. Quaternary International. 60, 336.
Smith, G.D, (1942). Illinois loess: variations in its properties and distribution, a pedologic interpretation. University of Illinois Agricultural Experiment Station Bull.. 490, 139184.
Stuiver, M, Reimer, P.J, Bard, E, Beck, J.W, Burr, G.S, Hughen, K.A, Kromer, B, McCormac, G, van der Plicht, J, Spurk, M, (1998). INTCAL 98 radiocarbon age calibration, 24,000–0 cal B.P. Radiocarbon. 40, 10411083.
Trainer, F.W, (1961). Eolian deposits of the Matanuska Valley agricultural area, Alaska. U.S. Geological Survey Bull. 1121-C.
Tuck, R, (1938). The loess of the Matanuska Valley, Alaska. Journal of Geology. 46, 647653.
Verosub, K.L, Fine, P, Singer, M.J, TenPas, J, (1993). Pedogenesis and paleoclimate: interpretation of the magnetic susceptibility record of Chinese loess–paleosol sequences. Geology. 21, 10111014.
Wang, H, Follmer, L.R, Liu, J.C, (2000). Isotope evidence of paleo-El Niño–Southern Oscillation cycles in loess–paleosol record in the central United States. Geology. 28, 771774.
Wells, P.V, Stewart, J.D, (1987). Spruce charcoal, conifer macrofossils, and land snail and small-vertebrate faunas in Wisconsinan sediments on the High Plains of Kansas. Johnson, W.C, Quaternary Environments of Kansas. Kansas Geological Survey Guidebook Series. vol. 5, Kansas Geological Surveys, Lawrence, Kansas., 129140.
Williams, J.R, (1986). New radiocarbon dates from the Matanuska Glacier bog section. U.S. Geological Survey Circular. C-0978, 8588.


Related content

Powered by UNSILO

Holocene loess deposition and soil formation as competing processes, Matanuska Valley, Southern Alaska

  • Daniel R. Muhs (a1), John P. McGeehin (a2), Jossh Beann (a1) and Eric Fisher (a1)


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed.