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In September 2016, the annual meeting of the International Union for Quaternary Research’s Loess and Pedostratigraphy Focus Group, traditionally referred to as a LoessFest, met in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, USA. The 2016 LoessFest focused on “thin” loess deposits and loess transportation surfaces. This LoessFest included 75 registered participants from 10 countries. Almost half of the participants were from outside the United States, and 18 of the participants were students. This review is the introduction to the special issue for Quaternary Research that originated from presentations and discussions at the 2016 LoessFest. This introduction highlights current understanding and ongoing work on loess in various regions of the world and provides brief summaries of some of the current approaches/strategies used to study loess deposits.
A loess sequence has been sampled continuously at high resolution in Nussloch (Rhine Valley, Germany) for malacological and grain-size analyses between ca. 34 and 20 ka. Molluscan abundance and richness, percentage in hygrophilous species and grain-size index show cyclical variations related to the lithological loess–gley alternation. Major molluscan abundance maxima were triggered by temperature increases through an enhancement of the reproduction cycle, whereas cyclical richness fluctuations and percentage in hygrophilous species reflect variations in local humidity and changes in the environmental mosaic. Malacological parameters allow the distinction of four environmental phases organised in cyclical successions correlated with most of the loess–gley doublets. The correlation of the grain-size index of the Nussloch loess sequence with the dust content of the GRIP ice core demonstrates the synchronicity of major molluscan abundance maxima and δ18O increases characterising temperature increases during Dansgaard–Oeschger interstades. A schematic model is proposed to link the North Atlantic Dansgaard–Oeschger climatic oscillations with local environmental changes indicated by both malacofauna and pedostratigraphy. This malacological study of the Nussloch loess sequence thus provides new information about the response of terrestrial loessic palaeoenvironments to millennial-timescale climatic fluctuations during the Upper Weichselian (∼ marine isotope stage 2 (MIS 2) and end of MIS 3).
The malacofaunas of Burgundy, France, reflect changes in climate and the activities of man during the Holocene. Statistical analyses based on the Shannon diversity index and correspondence analysis are used to describe the mollusk assemblages in a composite sequence based on three well-dated sites. The variation demonstrated by the mollusks suggests that a two-step warming took place between 10,000 and 9000 and 8000 and 6000 yr B.P. in relative agreement with the timing of the deglaciation in the tropical Atlantic Ocean proposed by Mix and Ruddiman (1985, Quaternary Science Reviews 4, 59-108). High humidity, partly associated with widespread inundations of the valleys between 10,000 and 8000 yr B.P., may be related to estimated variations in the rate of freshwater discharge to the Atlantic Ocean reported by Fairbanks (1989, Nature 342, 637-642). The increasing impact of human activities on the environment during the past 2000 yr is indicated by the low diversity of the mollusk assemblages, demonstrating the need for careful interpretation of the youngest Holocene sediments in this region.
The Vyazivok loess sequence from the Dnieper Plain, Ukraine, documents regional environmental changes during the late Pleistocene and Holocene. Pedological and palynological analyses and low-field magnetic susceptibility document changes from dense temperate forest during the last interglacial maximum to open, harsh, loess–steppe during the latest Pleistocene. The Vyazivok section overlies hillwash derived from a lower Pleistocene terrace and consists of two stratified soil complexes (Kaydaky and Pryluky; marine isotope stage [MIS] 5 equivalent) separated by a layer of eolian dust (Tyasmyn silt). The lower soils in both complexes formed within forest. These soils are overlain by the Uday (MIS4) and Bug (MIS2) loess units, which are separated by boreal soils of the Vytachiv (MIS3) complex. The coldest conditions within the record occurred in the youngest loess. Holocene soils cap the Bug loess. The Vyazivok section shows remarkable similarities with other classical loess sequences in western Europe, the Czech Republic, and Austria. The Kaydaky, Pryluky, and Vytachiv deposits, correlate with the PKIII, PKII, and PKI soil complexes, respectively, of the Czech Republic. The Tyasmyn and Prylyky silt layers correspond to marker horizons from central Europe.
Correspondence and multiple regression analysis of terrestrial molluscs in the loess sections of Achenheim (Alsace, France) has permitted the reconstruction of climatic variations during the last three glacial-interglacial cycles back to 339,000 yr B.P. The sequence has been dated according to the SPECMAP chronology of Imbrie et al. (1984) and the fossil faunas have been calibrated in relation to recent assemblages sampled in defined ecological conditions in Sweden and France. Transfer functions that relate the abundances of different species to climate allow the reconstruction of temperature and precipitation. Estimates for the coldest (February) and warmest (August) months in present-day Alsace were obtained and variations in temperature between −13° and 2°C in winter and 10° and 17°C in summer were determined. These results are consistent with those yielded by transfer functions using other continental fossils. Estimates differ for past precipitation. Summer precipitation is always less than present (with values between 50 and 78 mm, while modern August values are 76 mm higher). Winter estimates are always higher than the present mean (between 76 and 33 mm, while the recent February value is 34 mm). Comparisons between cycles show that the climatic patterns described for one cycle cannot be strictly applied to the others. Comparisons have been made with the pollen stratigraphy of La Grande Pile, the nearest quantified sequence to Achenheim, and with some Atlantic cores in order to study the magnitude of deviations from modern mean values of the climatic parameters.
New field investigations of the Achenheim sequence (Alsace, France) allow for the characterization of variations in the low-field magnetic susceptibility over most of the last climatic cycle, i.e., the past 130,000 yr. New stratigraphic data and thermoluminescence measurements permit reassessment of the previous chronological interpretation of the Upper Pleistocene at Achenheim. A high-resolution analysis of magnetic susceptibility discloses the occurrence of a fine-grained “marker” horizon which was also found recently in another section. This horizon is interpreted as a small-scale dust layer deposited prior to the main interval of loess deposition. The horizon, deposited at the marine isotope stage (MIS) 5/4 boundary, has been found in other loess sequences and is especially prevalent in central Europe. It is characterized by low susceptibility values and a grayish color. New thermoluminescence dates indicate that the loess deposition took place after the MIS 5/4 boundary, i.e., after 70,000 yr. These results are consistent with the Greenland GRIP ice-core dust record which also demonstrates a dusty atmosphere after 72,000 yr ago. On a more regional scale, the Achenheim loess sequence demonstrates a reliable correlation between the western side of the Eurasian loess belt and the dust record of the Greenland ice cores.
Paleoprecipitation reconstructions on the basis of pollen are well known, but they do not provide high temporal resolution for glacial periods. High-resolution paleoprecipitation reconstructions for the last glaciation based on the isotopic record organic matter in loess from Nussloch (Rhine Valley, Germany) are consistent with paleoprecipitation inferred from peat in the same area using an independant method. Thus, δ13C of loess organic matter can be used as a proxy for paleoprecipitation.
Molluscan changes that occurred in China over the S2–L2 upper middle Pleistocene series may be caused by monsoon variation. Study of terrestrial mollusks from the loess sequence in Luochuan, gathered in ecological groups according to the moisture and temperature requirements of the identified species, indicates alternating strengthened summer and winter paleomonsoons between 130,000 and 244,000 yr. The four occurrences of species, currently distributed in S.E. China in the sequence, indicate that the climate conditions were warmer and wetter than today between about 242,000 and 233,000 yr, at about 210,000, 164,000, and 140,000 yr. The main occurrence of xerophilous taxa at about 180,000, 154,000, and 138,000 yr is interpreted as indicating a drier environment than today. Such suggestions are in agreement with other proxy data such as grain size distribution. Higher numbers of individuals in the different ecological groups from the S2–L2 sequence indicate more favorable general environmental conditions than in the youngest S1–L1. This may agree with an increase in the regional aridity, since 500,000 yr, deduced from the study of the eolian flux in the northwestern Pacific downwind from China.
Based on multivariate analysis of mollusk assemblages and magnetic susceptibility of the Eustis section in western Nebraska, the climate of the Peoria loess steppe was relatively mild and, in terms of annual precipitation, relatively moist during the advance stages of Woodfordian ice. It was cold and dry during ice retreat. The diversity and composition of mollusk species indicates that the extreme cold and dry climate was reached during the late phase of Peoria time, in mollusk zone MZ3. Although soil moisture during the growing season at that time was high, the growing season was short and annual precipitation totals were low. Low values of magnetic susceptibility imply relatively rapid dust deposition during this interval, Judging from the current ecological tolerance of the species, no closed forest existed in the area. Only scattered shrubs or isolated tree stands may have been present. The late Peoria MZ3 assemblage compares favorably with the Columella fauna of Europe. In contrast, the early Peoria mollusk assemblages MZ1 and MZ2 compare well with the European pleniglacial Pupilla associations. Based on available 14 C dates from the studied region and on assumed relation of magnetic susceptibility to sedimentation rates, the estimated age of the MZ1 and MZ2 zones is 24,000 to 16,000 yr, whereas that of MZ3 is 16,000 to 12,000 yr.
Terrestrial mollusks, easily identified in Quaternary sediments, represent a reliable tool for quantitative estimates of environmental parameters. Our study, comparing the species distribution with meteorological parameters in Europe, shows that mean temperature of the coldest month and annual thermal magnitude are the most important forcing parameters. This survey allows us to adapt the mutual climatic range (MCR) method to terrestrial mollusk assemblages following two main steps. A set of assemblages from different European regions (northern Norway to southern France) is used to apply the method to present-day mollusks. The reconstructed values describe the latitudinal temperature gradient prevailing over Europe. However, the comparison between the reconstructed and the measured values indicates a shift, similar to that observed, with the same method applied to beetle assemblages. Thus, estimates must be calculated after the reconstruction is tuned with the observations. The results from the modern mollusk assemblages indicate that the MCR method can be safely applied to reconstructing temperatures from terrestrial mollusk assemblages in any worldwide Quaternary sequence. A trial application is made on Late Pleistocene assemblages from Achenheim (Alsace, France).
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