Hostname: page-component-77c89778f8-rkxrd Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-07-21T04:20:56.411Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Insights into the provenance of the Chinese Loess Plateau from joint zircon U-Pb and garnet geochemical analysis of last glacial loess

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 November 2017

Kaja Fenn*
Department of Geography, Royal Holloway University of London, Egham, Surrey TW20 OEX, United Kingdom
Thomas Stevens
Department of Earth Sciences, Uppsala Universitet, Villavägen 16, 752 36 Uppsala, Sweden
Anna Bird
Department of Geography, Environment and Earth Sciences, University of Hull, Cottingham Road, Hull, HU6 7RX, United Kingdom
Mara Limonta
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Piazza della Scienza 4, 20126 Milano, Italy
Martin Rittner
London Geochronology Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London (UCL), London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom
Pieter Vermeesch
London Geochronology Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London (UCL), London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom
Sergio Andò
London Geochronology Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London (UCL), London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom
Eduardo Garzanti
London Geochronology Centre, Department of Earth Sciences, University College London (UCL), London, WC1E 6BT, United Kingdom
Huayu Lu
School of Geographic and Oceanographic Sciences, Institute for Climate and Global Change Research, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
Hanzhi Zhang
School of Geographic and Oceanographic Sciences, Institute for Climate and Global Change Research, Nanjing University, Nanjing 210093, China
Zeng Lin
Yantai Institute of Coastal Zone Research Chinese Academy of Sciences, 17 Chunhui Road, Laishan District, Yantai 264003, China
*Corresponding author at: Oxford University Centre for the Environment, South Parks Road, Oxford OX1 3QY, Unite Kingdom. E-mail address: (K. Fenn).


The Chinese Loess Plateau, the world’s largest and oldest loess record, preserves evidence of Asia’s long-term dust source dynamics, but there is uncertainty over the source of the deposits. Recent single-grain detrital zircon U-Pb age analysis has progressed this issue, but debates remain about source changes, and the generation and interpretation of zircon data. To address this, we analyze different groupings of new and existing datasets from the Loess Plateau and potential sources. We also present the results of a first high resolution sampling, multi-proxy provenance analysis of Beiguoyuan loess using U-Pb dating of detrital zircons and detrital garnet geochemistry. The data shows that some small source differences seem to exist between different areas on the Loess Plateau. However, sediment source appears to be unchanging between loess and palaeosols, supporting a recent material recycling hypothesis. Our zircon and garnet data demonstrates, however, that Beiguoyuan experienced a temporary, abrupt source shift during the last glacial maximum, implying that local dust sources became periodically active during the Quaternary. Our results highlight that grouping data to achieve bigger datasets could cause identification of misleading trends. Additionally, we suggest that multi-proxy single-grain approaches are required to gain further insight into Chinese Loess Plateau dust sources.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2017 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


Alizai, A., Clift, P.D., Still, J., 2016. Indus Basin sediment provenance constrained using garnet geochemistry. Journal of Asian Earth Sciences 126, 2957.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Andò, S., Morton, A., Garzanti, E., 2013. Metamorphic grade of source rocks revealed by chemical fingerprints of detrital amphibole and garnet. Geological Society of London, Special Publications 386, 351371.Google Scholar
Bersani, D., Andò, S., Vignola, P., Moltifiori, G., Marino, I.G., Lottici, P.P., Diella, V., 2009. Micro-Raman spectroscopy as a routine tool for garnet analysis. Spectrochimica Acta Parta A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy 73, 484491.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Bird, A.F., Stevens, T., Rittner, M., Vermeesch, P., Carter, A., Andò, S., Garzanti, E., et al. 2015. Quaternary dust source variation across the Chinese Loess Plateau. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 435, 254264.Google Scholar
Bird, A.F., Thirlwall, M.F., Strachan, R.A., Manning, C.J., 2013. Lu-Hf and Sm-Nd dating of metamorphic garnet: evidence for multiple accretion events during the Caledonian orogeny in Scotland. Journal of the Geological Society of London 170, 301317.Google Scholar
Chabangborn, A., Brandefelt, J., Wohlfarth, B., 2014. Asian monsoon climate during the Last Glacial Maximum: palaeo-data-model comparisons. Boreas 43, 220242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Che, X., Li, G., 2013. Binary sources of loess on the Chinese Loess Plateau revealed by U–Pb ages of zircon. Quaternary Research 80, 545551.Google Scholar
Chen, J., Li, G., Yang, J., Rao, W.-B., Lu, H., Balsam, W., Sun, Y., Ji, J., 2007. Nd and Sr isotopic characteristics of Chinese deserts: implications for the provenances of Asian dust. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 71, 39043914.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Enkelmann, E., Weislogel, A., Ratschbacher, L., Eide, E., Renno, A., Wooden, J.L., 2007. How was the Triassic Songpan-Ganzi basin filled? A provenance study. Tectonics 26.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Feng, Z.D., Tang, L.Y., Ma, Y.Z., Zhai, Z.X., Wu, H.N., Li, F., Zou, S.B., et al. 2007. Vegetation variations and associated environmental changes during marine isotope stage 3 in the western part of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 246, 278291.Google Scholar
Guo, Z.T., Ruddiman, W.F., Hao, Q., Wu, H.B., Qiao, Y.S., Zhu, R.X., Peng, S.Z., Wei, J.J., Yuan, B.-Y., Liu, T.S., 2002. Onset of Asian desertification by 22 Myr ago inferred from loess deposits in China. Nature 416, 159163.Google Scholar
Jackson, S.E., Pearson, N.J., Griffin, W.L., Belousova, E.A., 2004. The application of laser ablation-inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometry to in situ U-Pb zircon geochronology. Chemical Geology 211, 4769.Google Scholar
Jahn, B., Gallet, S., Han, J., 2001. Geochemistry of the Xining, Xifeng and Jixian sections, Loess Plateau of China: eolian dust provenance and paleosol evolution during the last 140 ka. Chemical Geology 178, 7194.Google Scholar
Krippner, A., Meinhold, G., Morton, A.C., Eynatten, H. Von, 2014. Evaluation of garnet discrimination diagrams using geochemical data of garnets derived from various host rocks. Sedimentary Geology 306, 3652.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Licht, A., Pullen, A., Kapp, P., Abell, J., Giesler, N., 2016. Eolian cannibalism: Reworked loess and fluvial sediment as the main sources of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Geological Society of America Bulletin 128, 944956.Google Scholar
Licht, A., van Cappelle, M., Abels, H.A., Ladant, J.B., Trabucho-Alexandre, J., France-Lanord, C., Donnadieu, Y., et al. 2014. Asian monsoons in a late Eocene greenhouse world. Nature 513, 501506.Google Scholar
Lu, H., Sun, D., 2000. Pathways of dust input to the Chinese Loess Plateau during the last glacial and interglacial periods. Catena 40, 251261.Google Scholar
Maher, B.A., Mutch, T.J., Cunnungham, D., 2009. Magnetic and geochemical characteristics of Gobi Desert surface sediments: Implications for provenance of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Geology 37, 279282.Google Scholar
Mange, M., Morton, A.C., 2007. Geochemistry of heavy materials. In Mange, M., Wright, D.T. (Eds), Heavy Minerals In Use. 1st ed, Developments in Sedimentology, vol. 58. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp. 345–391.Google Scholar
Merkel, U., Rousseau, D.-D., Stuut, J.B., Winckler, G., 2014). Present and past mineral dust variations - a cross-disciplinary challenge for research. Pages 22, 59–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morton, A.C., 1991. Geochemical studies of detrital heavy minerals and their application to provenance research. Geological Society of London Special Publications 57, 3145.Google Scholar
Morton, A.C., Hallsworth, C.R., Chalton, B., 2004. Garnet compositions in Scottish and Norwegian basement terrains: a framework for interpretation of North Sea sandstone provenance. Marine and Petroleum Geology 21, 393410.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Morton, A.C., Meinhold, G., Howard, J.P., Phillips, R.J., Strogen, D., Abutarruma, Y., Elgadry, M., Thusu, B., Whitham, A.G., 2011. A heavy mineral study of sandstones from the eastern Murzuq Basin, Libya: constraints on provenance and stratigraphic correlation. Journal of African Earth Sciences 61, 308330.Google Scholar
Nie, J., Peng, W., Möller, A., Song, Y., Stockli, D.F., Stevens, T., Horton, B.K., et al. 2014. Provenance of the upper Miocene-Pliocene Red Clay deposits of the Chinese loess plateau. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 407, 3547.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Nie, J., Stevens, T., Rittner, M., Stockli, D., Garzanti, E., Limonta, M., Vermeesch, P., et al. 2015. Loess Plateau storage of Northeastern Tibetan Plateau-derived Yellow River sediment. Nature Communications 6, 8511. ScholarPubMed
Pearce, N.J.G., Perkins, W.T., Westgate, J.A., Gorton, M.P., Jackson, S.E., Neal, C.R., Chenery, S.P., 1997. A compilation of new and published major and trace element data for NIST SRM 610 and NIST SRM 612 glass reference materials. Geostandards Newsletter 21, 115144.Google Scholar
Pirajno, F., 2013. The Geology and Tectonic Settings of China’s Mineral Deposits. Springer, New York.Google Scholar
Prins, M.A., Vriend, M., Nugteren, G., Vandenberghe, J., Lu, H., Zheng, H., Jan Weltje, G., 2007. Late Quaternary aeolian dust input variability on the Chinese Loess Plateau: inferences from unmixing of loess grain-size records. Quaternary Science Reviews 26, 230242.Google Scholar
Pullen, A., Ibanez-Mejia, M., Gehrels, G.E., Ibanez-Mejia, J.C., Pecha, M., 2014. What happens when n= 1000? Creating large-n geochronological datasets with LA-ICP-MS for geologic investigations. Journal of Analytical Atomic Spectrometry 29, 971980.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Pullen, A., Kapp, P., McCallister, A.T., Chang, H., Gehrels, G.E., Garzione, C.N., Heermance, R.V., Ding, L., 2011. Qaidam Basin and northern Tibetan Plateau as dust sources for the Chinese Loess Plateau and paleoclimatic implications. Geology 39, 10311034.Google Scholar
Qiang, M., Chen, F., Wang, Z., Niu, G., Song, L., 2010. Aeolian deposits at the southeastern margin of the Tengger Desert (China): Implications for surface wind strength in the Asian dust source area over the past 20,000 years. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 286, 6680. doi: 10.1016/j.palaeo.2009.12.005 Google Scholar
Rasmussen, T.L., Thomsen, E., Moros, M., 2016. North Atlantic warming during Dansgaard-Oeschger events synchronous with Antarctic warming and out-of-phase with Greenland climate. Scientific Reports 6, 12.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed
Rittner, M., Vermeesch, P., Carter, A., Bird, A.F., Stevens, T., Garzanti, E., Andò, S., et al. 2016. The provenance of Taklamakan desert sand. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 437, 127137.Google Scholar
Sláma, J., Košler, J., Condon, D.J., Crowley, J.L., Gerdes, A., Hanchar, J.M., Horstwood, M.S.A., et al. 2008. Plešovice zircon — A new natural reference material for U–Pb and Hf isotopic microanalysis. Chemical Geology 249, 135.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stevens, T., Adamiec, G., Bird, A.F., Lu, H., 2013a. An abrupt shift in dust source on the Chinese Loess Plateau revealed through high sampling resolution OSL dating. Quaternary Science Reviews 82, 121132.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Stevens, T., Carter, A., Watson, T.P., Vermeesch, P., Andò, S., Bird, A.F., Lu, H., et al. 2013b. Genetic linkage between the Yellow River, the Mu Us desert and the Chinese Loess Plateau. Quaternary Science Reviews 78, 355368.Google Scholar
Stevens, T., Lu, H., 2009. Optically stimulated luminescence dating as a tool for calculating sedimentation rates in Chinese loess: comparisons with grain-size records. Sedimentology 56, 911934.Google Scholar
Stevens, T., Lu, H., 2010. Radiometric dating of the late Quaternary summer monsoon on the Loess Plateau, China. Geological Society of London Special Publications 342, 87108.Google Scholar
Stevens, T., Lu, H., Thomas, D.S.G., Armitage, S.J., 2008. Optical dating of abrupt shifts in the late Pleistocene East Asian monsoon. Geology 36, 415.Google Scholar
Stevens, T., Palk, C., Carter, A., Lu, H., Clift, P.D., 2010. Assessing the provenance of loess and desert sediments in northern China using U-Pb dating and morphology of detrital zircons. Geological Society of America Bulletin 122, 13311344.Google Scholar
Stutenbecker, L., Berger, A., Schlunegger, F., 2017. The potential of detrital garnet as a provenance proxy in the Central Swiss Alps. Sedimentary Geology 351, 11--20.Google Scholar
Stuut, J.B., Prins, M.A., 2014. The significance of particle size of long-range transported mineral dust. Pages News 22, 7071.Google Scholar
Su, B., 2014. Mafic-Ultramafic Intrusions in Beishan and Eastern Tianshan at Southern CAOB: Petrogenesis, Mineralization and Tectonic Implication. Springer Theses. Springer-Verlag.Google Scholar
Suggate, S.M., Hall, R., 2013. Using detrital garnet compositions to determine provenance: a new compositional database and procedure. Geological Society of London Special Publications 386, 373393.Google Scholar
Sun, J., 2002. Provenance of loess material and formation of loess deposits on the Chinese Loess Plateau. Earth Planetary Science Letters 203, 845859.Google Scholar
Sun, J., Zhu, X., 2010. Temporal variations in Pb isotopes and trace element concentrations within Chinese eolian deposits during the past 8Ma: implications for provenance change. Earth Planetary Science Letters 290, 438447.Google Scholar
Sun, Y., Tada, R., Chen, J., Liu, Q., Toyoda, S., Tani, A., Ji, J., Isozaki, Y., 2008. Tracing the provenance of fine-grained dust deposited on the central Chinese Loess Plateau. Geophysical Research Letters 35, 15.Google Scholar
Tyrrell, S., Daly, J.S., Shannon, P.M., 2012. The Pb isotopic composition of detrital K- feldspar: a tool for constraining provenance, sedimentary processes and paleodrainage. In Sylvester, P. (Ed.), Quantitative Minerology and Microanalysis of Sediments and Semidentary Rocks. Mineralogical Association of Canada Short Course Series vol. 42. Mineralogical Association of Canada, Quebec, pp. 203217.Google Scholar
Újvári, G., Klötzli, U., 2015. U–Pb ages and Hf isotopic composition of zircons in Austrian last glacial loess: constraints on heavy mineral sources and sediment transport pathways. International Journal of Earth Sciences 104, 13651385.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Újvári, G., Klötzli, U., Kiraly, F., Ntaflos, T., 2013. Towards identifying the origin of metamorphic components in Austrian loess: Insights from detrital rutile chemistry, thermometry and U-Pb geochronology. Quaternary Science Reviews 75, 132142.Google Scholar
Vermeesch, P., 2004. How many grains are needed for a provenance study? Earth Planetary Science Letters 224, 441451.Google Scholar
Vermeesch, P., 2012. On the visualisation of detrital age distributions. Chemical Geology 312–313, 190194.Google Scholar
Vermeesch, P., 2013. Multi-sample comparison of detrital age distributions. Chemical Geology 341, 140146.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Vermeesch, P., Garzanti, E., 2015. Making geological sense of “Big Data” in sedimentary provenance analysis. Chemical Geology 409, 2027.Google Scholar
von Eynatten, H., Dunkl, I., 2012. Assessing the sediment factory: The role of single grain analysis. Earth-Science Reviews 115, 97120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Wu, N., Liu, X., Gu, Z., Pei, Y., 2002. Rapid climate variability recorded by mollusk species on the Loess Plateau during the last glacial maximum. Boreas 22, 283291.Google Scholar
Xiao, G., Zong, K., Li, G., Hu, Z., Dupont-Nivet, G., Peng, S., Zhang, K., 2012. Spatial and glacial-interglacial variations in provenance of the Chinese Loess Plateau. Geophysical Research Letters 39, 16.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Xie, J., Ding, Z., 2007. Compositions of heavy minerals in Northeastern China sandlands and provenance analysis. Science in China Series D Earth Sciences 50, 17151723.Google Scholar
Yang, S., Ding, Z., 2008. Advance-retreat history of the East-Asian summer monsoon rainfall belt over northern China during the last two glacial-interglacial cycles. Earth Planetary Science Letters 274, 499510.Google Scholar
Yu, G., Xue, B., Li, Y., 2013. Lake levels studies: Asia. In Elias, S.A., Mock, C.J. (Eds.), Encyclopedia of Quaternary Science. Elsevier, Oxford, pp. 506523.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Zhai, M.-G., Windley, B.F., Kusky, T.M., Meng, Q.R (Eds.), 2007. Mesozoic Sub-continental Lithospheric Thinning Under Eastern Asia. 1st ed. Geological Society of London, London.Google Scholar
Zhang, H., Lu, H., Xu, X., Liu, X., Yang, T., Stevens, T., Bird, A.F., et al. 2016. Quantitative estimation of the contribution of dust sources to Chinese loess using detrital zircon U-Pb age patterns. Journal of Geophysical Resarch: Earth Surface 121, 20852099.Google Scholar
Zhang, X.Y., 2003. Sources of Asian dust and role of climate change versus desertification in Asian dust emission. Geophysical Research Letters 30, 69.Google Scholar
Supplementary material: File

Fenn et al supplementary material

Fenn et al supplementary material 1
Download Fenn et al supplementary material(File)
File 70.8 KB
Supplementary material: File

Fenn et al. supplementary material

Fenn et al. supplementary material 2

Download Fenn et al. supplementary material(File)
File 49.7 KB
Supplementary material: File

Fenn et al. supplementary material

Fenn et al. supplementary material 3
Download Fenn et al. supplementary material(File)
File 457.2 KB