Skip to main content Accessibility help

Landscape evolution of the Ulan Buh Desert in northern China during the late Quaternary

  • Fahu Chen (a1), Guoqiang Li (a1), Hui Zhao (a2), Ming Jin (a1), Xuemei Chen (a1), Yuxin Fan (a1), Xiaokang Liu (a1), Duo Wu (a1) and David Madsen (a1)...


The evolution of arid environments in northern China was a major environmental change during the Quaternary. Here we present the dating and environmental proxy results from a 35 m long core (A-WL10ZK-1) collected from the Ulan Buh Desert (UBD), along with supplemental data from four other cores. The UBD is one of the main desert dune fields in China and our results indicate the UBD has undergone complex evolution during the late Quaternary. Most of the present UBD was covered by a Jilantai-Hetao Mega-paleolake lasting until ~ 90 ka ago. A sandy desert environment prevailed throughout the UBD during the last glacial period and early Holocene. A wetland environment characterized by the formation of numerous interdunal ponds in the northern UBD occurred at ~ 8–7 ka, although a dune field persisted in the southern UBD. The modern UBD landscape formed after these wetlands dried up. During the last 2000 years, eolian sand from the Badain Jaran Desert has invaded the northern UBD, while farming and overgrazing resulted in the formation of the eastern UBD. We suggest that the formation of UBD landforms is related to the disintegration of the megalake Jilantai-Hetao and to summer monsoon changes during the last glaciation and Holocene.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Fax: + 86 931 8912330. E-mail address: (F. Chen).


Hide All
Aitken, M.J. An Introduction to Optical Dating. (1998). Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
Banerjee, D., Murray, A.S., Bøter-Jensen, L., and Lang, A. Equivalent dose estimation using a single aliquot of polymineral fine grains. Radiation Measurements 33, (2001). 7394.
Biscaye, P.E., Grousset, F.E., Revel, M., Van der Gaast, S., Zielinski, G.A., Vaars, A., and Kukla, G. Asian provenance of glacial dust (stage 2) in the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2 Ice Core, summit, Greenland. Journal of Geophysical Research 102, (1997). 2676526781.
Bøtter-Jensen, L., McKeever, S.W.S., and Wintle, A.G. Optically Stimulated Luminescence Dosimetry. (2003). Elsevier, Amsterdam. 355
Bush, A. CO2/H2O and orbitally driven climate variability over central Asia through the Holocene. Quaternary International 136, (2005). 1523.
Cai, Y.J., Tan, L.C., Cheng, H., An, Z.S., Edwards, L.R., Kelly, M.J., Kong, X.G., and Wang, X.F. The variation of summer monsoon precipitation in central China since the last deglaciation. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 291, (2010). 2131.
Chen, F.H., Fan, Y.X., Chun, X., Madsen, D.B., Oviatt, C.G., Zhao, H., Yang, L.P., and Sun, Y. Preliminary research on Megalake Jilantai-Hetao in the arid areas of China during the late Quaternary. Chinese Science Bulletin 53, (2008). 17251739.
Chen, F.H., Yu, Z.C., Yang, M.L., Ito, E., Wang, S.M., Madsen, D.B., Huang, X.Z., Zhao, Y., Sato, T., Birks, H.J.B., Boomer, I., Chen, J.H., An, C.B., and Wünnemann, B. Holocene moisture evolution in arid central Asia and its out-of-phase relationship with Asian monsoon history. Quaternary Science Reviews 27, (2008). 351364.
Chen, F.H., Fan, Y.X., Madsen, D.B., Chun, X., Zhao, H., and Yang, L.P. Preliminary study on the formation mechanism of the “Jilantai-Hetao” megalake and the lake evolutionary history in Hetao region. Quaternary Sciences 28, (2008). 866873. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Chen, F.H., Qiang, M.R., Zhou, A.F., Xiao, S., and Chen, J.H. A 2000-year dust storm record from Lake Sugan in the dust source area of arid China. Journal of Geophysical Research (2013). (
Chun, X., Chen, F.H., and Fan, Y.X. Formation of Ulan Buh Desert and its environmental changes during the Holocene. Frontiers of Earth Science in China 2, (2008). 327332.
Clark, P.U., Dyke, A.S., Shakun, J.D., Carlson, A.E., Clark, J., Wohlfarth, B., Mitrovica, J.X., Hostetler, S.W., and McCabe, A.M. The Last Glacial Maximum. Science 325, (2009). 710714.
Ding, Z.J., Sun, J.M., and Liu, T.S. The sedimentological indicator: linking the coupling relationship on the loess-desert evolutionary course. Science in China Series D 29, (1999). 8287.
Dong, G. Studies on Deserts' Formation and Evolution, Climate Changes and Desertification in China. (2002). China Ocean Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)
Dykoski, C.A., Edwards, R.L., Cheng, H., Yuan, D.X., Cai, Y.J., Zhang, M.L., Lin, Y.F., Qing, J.M., An, Z.S., and Revenaugh, J. A high-resolution, absolute-dated Holocene and deglacial Asian monsoon record from Dongge Cave, China. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 233, (2005). 7186.
Faegri, K., and Iversen, J. Test Book of Pollen Analysis (3rd). (1989). Blackwell, Oxford.
Fan, Y.X. Study on the Evolution of the Jilantai-Hetao Megalake Focusing on Optical Dating of Lakeshore Sediments. (Ph.D. Thesis) (2008). Lanzhou University, China. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Fan, Y.X., Chen, F.H., Fan, T.L., Zhao, H., and Yang, L.P. Sedimentary documents and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) dating for formation of the present landform of the northern Ulan Buh Desert, northern China. Science in China Series D 53, (2010). 16751682.
Fan, Y.X., Chen, F.H., Wei, G.X., Madsen, D.B., Oviatt, C.G., Zhao, H., Chun, X., Yang, L.P., Fan, T.L., and Li, G.Q. Potential water sources for late Quaternary Megalake Jilantai-Hetao, China, inferred from mollusk shell 87Sr/86Sr ratios. Journal of Paleolimnology 43, (2010). 577587.
Geological and Mineral Bureau of Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, Areal Geological Survey for Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. (1991). Geological Publishing House, Beijing. 327329. (in Chinese)
Heiri, O., Lotter, A.F., and Lemcke, G. Loss on ignition as a method for estimating organic and carbonate content in sediments: reproducibility and comparability of results. Journal of Paleolimnology 25, (2001). 101110.
Hou, The Theory and Case Study of Historical Geography. (1979). Shanghai People's Publishing House, Shanghai, China. (in Chinese)
Hou, R.Z., and Yu, C.W. Environmental variance and archaeological findings in the Ulan Buh Desert. Archaeology 2, (1973). 92107. (in Chinese)
Jia, T.F., Yin, S., He, Y., Zhao, M., and Bao, G.L. Holocene sediment texture and its environmental meaning of Donghaizi Lake in Ulan Buh Desert. Journal of Desert Research 23, (2003). 165170. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Jing, A. An Introduction to Desert Archaeology. (2001). Forbidden City Publishing House, Beijing. (in Chinese)
Lai, Z.P. Chronology and the upper dating limit for loess samples from Luochuan section in the Chinese Loess Plateau using quartz OSL SAR protocol. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 37, (2009). 176185.
Li, S.H. Identification of well-bleached grains in the optical dating of quartz. Quaternary Science Reviews 20, (2001). 13651370.
Li, B., and Li, S.-H. Luminescence dating of K-feldspar from sediments: a protocol without anomalous fading correction. Quaternary Geochronology 6, (2011). 468479.
Li, B., and Li, S.-H. Luminescence dating of Chinese loess beyond 130 ka using the non-fading signal from K-feldspar. Quaternary Geochronology 10, (2012). 2431.
Li, B.Y., Ge, Q.S., and Zhen, J.Y. Evolution of the Yellow River in the Hetao Plain of Inner Mongolia in the past 2000 years. Acta Geographica Sinica 58, (2003). 239246. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Li, J.B., Ran, Y.K., and Guo, W.S. Research on the lacustrine strata of the Tuoketuo mesa, Hetao basin, China. Quaternary Sciences 25, (2005). 630639. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Li, S.H., Chen, Y.Y., Li, B., Sun, J.M., and Yang, L.R. OSL dating of sediments from deserts in northern China. Quaternary Geochronology 2, (2007). 2328.
Li, G.J., Chen, J., Ji, J.F., Yang, J.D., and Conway, T.M. Natural and anthropogenic sources of East Asian dust. Geology 37, (2009). 727730.
Liu, C.Q., Akimasa, M., Akihiko, O., Sadayo, Y., and Fan, Z.L. Isotope geochemistry of Quaternary deposits from the arid lands in northern China. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 127, (1994). 2538.
Long, H., Lai, Z.P., Wang, N.A., and Li, Y. Holocene climate variations from Zhuyeze terminal lake records in East Asian monsoon margin in arid northern China. Quaternary Research 74, (2010). 4656.
Lu, H.Y., Miao, X.D., Zhou, Y.L., Mason, J., Swinehart, J., Zhang, J.F., Zhou, L.P., and Yi, S.W. Late Quaternary aeolian activity in the Mu Us and Otindag dune fields (north China) and lagged response to insolation forcing. Geophysical Research Letters 32, (2005). L21716
Maher, L.J. Statistics for microfossil concentration measurements employing samples spiked with marker grains. Review of Palaeobotany and Palynology 32, (1981). 153191.
Markey, B.G., Bøtter-Jensen, L., and Duller, G.A.T. A new flexible system for measuring thermally and optically stimulated luminescence. Radiation Measurements 27, (1997). 8389.
Pang, X.L., and Hu, D.S. Environment evolution and salt forming process of Jilantai salt lake since 22 ka BP. Journal of Desert Research 29, (2009). 193199. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Peng, Y.J., Xiao, J.L., Nakamura, T., Liu, B.L., and Inouchi, Y. Holocene East Asian monsoonal precipitation pattern revealed by grainsize distribution of core sediments of Daihai Lake in Inner Mongolia of north-central China. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 233, (2005). 467479.
Prescott, J.R., and Hutton, J.T. Cosmic ray contributions to dose rates for luminescence and ESR dating: large depths and long-term time variations. Radiation Measurements 23, (1994). 497500.
Qiang, M.R., Chen, F.H., Zhang, J.W., Zu, R.P., Jin, M., Zhou, A.F., and Xiao, S. Grain size in sediments from Lake Sugan: a possible linkage to dust storm events at the northern margin of the Qinghai–Tibetan Plateau. Environmental Geology 51, (2006). 12291238.
Qin, D.H. Environment Changes Assessment for Western China. (2002). Science Press, Beijing, China. (in Chinese)
Santisteban, J.I., Mediavilla, R., López-Pamo, E., Dabrio, C.J., Zapata, M.B.R., García, M.J.G., Castaño, S., and Martínez-Alfaro, P.E. Loss on ignition: a qualitative or quantitative method for organic matter and carbonate mineral content in sediments?. Journal of Paleolimnology 32, (2004). 287299.
Sun, J.M., and Liu, T.S. The age of the Taklimakan Desert. Science 312, (2006). 1621
Sun, J.M., Zhang, M.Y., and Liu, T.S. Spatial and temporal characteristics of dust storms in China and its surrounding regions, 1960–1999: relations to source area and climate. Journal of Geophysical Research 106, (2001). 1032510333.
Sun, Y.B., Tada, R.J., Chen, J., Liu, Q.S., Toyoda, S., Tani, A., Ji, J.F., and Isozaki, Y. Tracing the provenance of fine-grained dust deposited on the central Chinese Loess Plateau. Geophysical Research Letters 35, (2008). L01804
Sun, J.M., Zhang, Z.Q., and Zhang, L.Y. New evidence on the age of the Taklimakan Desert. Geology 37, (2009). 159162.
Tan, Q.X. Historical Atlas of China. (1991). Xiao Yuan Press, Taipei.
Uno, I., Eguchi, K., Yumimoto, K., Takemura, T., Shimizu, A., Uematsu, M., Liu, Z.Y., Wang, Z.F., Hara, Y., and Sugimoto, N. Asian dust transported one full circuit around the globe. Nature Geoscience 2, (2009). 557560.
Wang, T. Desert and Desertification in China. (2003). Hebei Science and Technology Press, Shijiazhuang. (in Chinese)
Wang, F.X., Qian, N.F., and Zhang, Y.L. Pollen Flora of China. 2nd ed. (1995). Science Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)
Wang, Y.J., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., He, Y.Q., Kong, X.G., An, Z.S., Wu, J.Y., Kelly, M.J., Dykoski, C.A., and Li, X.D. The Holocene Asian monsoon: links to solar changes and North Atlantic climate. Science 308, (2005). 854857.
Wang, Y.J., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Kong, X.G., Shao, X.H., Chen, S.T., Wu, J.Y., Jiang, X.Y., Wang, X.F., and An, Z.S. Millennial- and orbital-scale changes in the East Asian monsoon over the past 224000 years. Nature 451, (2008). 10901093.
Xi, Y.Z., and Ning, J.C. Study on pollen morphology of plants from dry and semidry area in China. Yushania 11, (1994). 119191. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Xiao, J.L., Xu, Q.G., Nakamura, T., Yang, X.L., Liang, W.D., and Inouchi, Y. Holocene vegetation variation in the Daihai Lake region of north-central China: a direct indication of the Asian monsoon climate history. Quaternary Science Reviews 23, (2004). 16691679.
Xu, Q.H., Xiao, J.L., Toshio, N., Yang, X.L., Yang, Z.J., Liang, W.D., Biro, I., and Yang, S.Y. Quantitative reconstructed climatic changes of Daihai basin by pollen data. Marine Geology & Quaternary Geology 23, (2003). 99108. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Yan, C.M., Dong, G.R., Tao, Z. et al. Late Tertiary eolian sand accumulation and its environment in the southeastern marginal Tengger Desert. Journal of Desert Research 12, (1992). 1015. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Yang, X.P., and Williams, M.A.J. The ion chemistry of lakes and late Holocene desiccation in the Badain Jaran desert, Inner Mongolia, China. Catena 51, (2003). 4560.
Yang, G.S., Liu, L.Y., and Liu, Z.M. Land desertification and its integrated transformation of Dengkou County. Journal of Arid Land Resources and Environment 5, (1991). 111. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Yang, D., Fang, X.M., Dong, G.R., Peng, Z.C., and Li, J.J. Aeolian deposit evidence for formation and evolution of the Tengger Desert in the north of China since early Pleistocene. Marine Geology & Quaternary Geology 26, (2006). 93100. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Yang, L.P., Chen, F., Chun, X., Fan, Y., Sun, Y., Madsen, D.B., and Zhang, X. The Jilantai Salt Lake shorelines in Northwestern arid China revealed by remote sensing images. Journal of Arid Environments 72, (2008). 861866.
Yang, L.H., Zhou, J., Lai, Z.P., Long, H., and Zhang, J.R. Late glacial and Holocene dune evolution in the Horqin dune field of northeastern China based on luminescence dating. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 296, (2010). 4451.
Yang, X.P., Scuderi, L., Liu, T., Paillou, P., Li, H.W., Dong, J.F., Zhu, B.Q., Jiang, W.W., Jochems, A., and Weissmann, G. Formation of the highest sand dunes on Earth. Geomorphology 135, (2011). 108116.
Yao, T.D., Thompson, L.G., Shi, Y.F., Shi, Y.F., Qin, D.H., Jiao, K.Q., Yang, Z.H., Tian, L.D., and Thompson, E.M. Climate variation since the last interglaciation recorded in the Guliya ice core. Science in China Series D 27, (1997). 447452.
Yin, Z.Q., Qin, X.G., Wu, J.S., and Ning, B. The multimodal grain-size distribution characteristics of loess, desert, lake and river sediment in some areas of northern China. Acta Sedimentologica Sinica 27, (2009). 343351. (in Chinese with English abstract)
Yuan, D.X., Cheng, H., Edwards, R.L., Dykoski, C.A., Kelly, M.J., Zhang, M.L., Qing, J.M., Lin, Y.S., Wang, Y.J., Wu, J.Y., Dorale, J.A., An, Z.S., and Cai, Y.J. Timing, duration, and transitions of the last interglacial Asian monsoon. Science 304, (2004). 575578.
Zhang, J.F., and Zhou, L.P. Optimization of the ‘double SAR’ procedure for polymineral fine grains. Radiation Measurements 42, (2007). 14751482.
Zhang, J.F., Zhou, L.P., and Yue, S.Y. Dating fluvial sediments by optically stimulated luminescence: selection of equivalent doses for age calculation. Quaternary Science Reviews 22, (2003). 11231129.
Zhang, H.C., Peng, J.L., Ma, Y.Z., Chen, G.J., Feng, Z.D., Li, B., Fan, H.F., Chang, F.Q., Lei, G.L., and Wünnemann, B. Late Quaternary paleolake levels in Tengger Desert, NW China. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 211, (2004). 4558.
Zhao, H., and Li, S.H. Internal dose rate to K-feldspar grains from radioactive elements other than potassium. Radiation Measurements 40, (2005). 8493.
Zhao, Y., Yu, Z.C., Chen, F.H., Zhang, J.W., and Yang, B. Vegetation response to Holocene climate change in monsoon-influenced region of China. Earth-Science Reviews 97, (2009). 242256.
Zhao, H., Li, G.Q., Sheng, Y.W., Jin, M., and Chen, F.H. Early-middle Holocene lake-desert evolution in northern Ulan Buh Desert, China. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 331–332, (2012). 3138.
Zhu, Z., Wu, Z., Liu, S., and Di, X. An Outline of Chinese Deserts (in Chinese). (1980). Science Press, Beijing. (in Chinese)


Landscape evolution of the Ulan Buh Desert in northern China during the late Quaternary

  • Fahu Chen (a1), Guoqiang Li (a1), Hui Zhao (a2), Ming Jin (a1), Xuemei Chen (a1), Yuxin Fan (a1), Xiaokang Liu (a1), Duo Wu (a1) and David Madsen (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