Abstract

The Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP) is a large, spatially well defined and persistent zone of loess accumulation developed near the fluctuating northwest margin of the East Asian monsoon. Many studies have analyzed its loess sediments to provide insights into paleoclimatic conditions. Although spatial and temporal variations in the grain sizes of CLP sediments are fundamental to this effort, controversy over the origin of the dominant coarse quartz silt has limited interpretations. Reexamination of the spatial pattern of grain-size distribution across the CLP and a field-scale experiment conducted in the Gobi Desert revealed a genetic association between the coarse silt fraction of the loess and primary production of coarse silt through eolian abrasion of sand in the proximal Mu-Us, Tengger, and Badain Jaran sandy deserts. Our results demonstrate the effectiveness of eolian abrasion of quartz sand in primary coarse silt production in Central Asia and identify this process as the most consistent with the well-recognized systematic northwest-southeast depositional pattern of the CLP. We suggest that only abraded coarse quartz grains transported short distances by long-term persistent eolian activity can build up thick loess sequences to form a massive and spatially well defined loess plateau. These results decouple the production and transport of coarse silt and finer silt and clay particles, which have a more distant and wider provenance, changing the constraints on previous paleoclimatic reconstructions.

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