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Origin of last-glacial loess in the western Yukon-Tanana Upland, central Alaska, USA

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 April 2018

Daniel R. Muhs*
U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980, Box 25046, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA
Jeffrey S. Pigati
U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980, Box 25046, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA
James R. Budahn
U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980, Box 25046, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA
Gary L. Skipp
U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980, Box 25046, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA
E. Arthur Bettis III
Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa 5224, USA
Britta Jensen
Department of Earth Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta T6G 2E3, Canada
*Corresponding author at: U.S. Geological Survey, MS 980, Box 25046, Federal Center, Denver, Colorado 80225, USA. E-mail address: (D.R. Muhs).


Loess is widespread over Alaska, and its accumulation has traditionally been associated with glacial periods. Surprisingly, loess deposits securely dated to the last glacial period are rare in Alaska, and paleowind reconstructions for this time period are limited to inferences from dune orientations. We report a rare occurrence of loess deposits dating to the last glacial period, ~19 ka to ~12 ka, in the Yukon-Tanana Upland. Loess in this area is very coarse grained (abundant coarse silt), with decreases in particle size moving south of the Yukon River, implying that the drainage basin of this river was the main source. Geochemical data show, however, that the Tanana River valley to the south is also a likely distal source. The occurrence of last-glacial loess with sources to both the south and north is explained by both regional, synoptic-scale winds from the northeast and opposing katabatic winds that could have developed from expanded glaciers in both the Brooks Range to the north and the Alaska Range to the south. Based on a comparison with recent climate modeling for the last glacial period, seasonality of dust transport may also have played a role in bringing about contributions from both northern and southern sources.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Washington. Published by Cambridge University Press, 2018 

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