The Chinese Loess Plateau of central Asia is composed of interbedded loess and paleosol layers, deposited during glacial and interglacial cycles, respectively, during the past ∼2.5 m.y. Understanding the provenance of loess is fundamental to reconstructing wind patterns during Quaternary glacial periods. We determined and compared U-Pb ages on zircon crystals from Loess Plateau strata and potential source areas. The results indicate that the loess was largely derived from the Qaidam Basin and the northern Tibetan Plateau to the west, both of which exhibit spatially extensive geomorphic landforms indicative of past (interpreted as pre-Holocene) wind erosion and/or deflation by westerly winds. This challenges the current paradigm that the loess of the Chinese Loess Plateau was largely sourced from deserts located to the northwest, as observed in the modern interglacial climate. We propose that during glacial periods, the mean annual positions of the polar jet streams were shifted equatorward, resulting in more southerly tracks for dust-generating storms and suppression of the East Asian monsoon by inhibiting the subtropical jet from shifting northward across the Tibetan Plateau.

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