Climate change is an often-cited control on geomorphic processes in the arid southwestern United States, but links to direct climatic factors and vegetation change remain under debate. Hillslopes at a site in the eastern Mojave Desert in southern Nevada are mantled by 0–1.5 m of colluvial deposits. Accumulation of weathered bedrock combined with eolian inputs of fine sand and silt led to the formation of well-developed soil profiles. Surface sediments from both sources were incorporated into colluvium, allowing both processes to be dated with optically stimulated luminescence (OSL). OSL ages indicate a period of increased colluviation in the Late Pleistocene facilitated by enhanced bedrock weathering and dust deposition. Hillslope aspect strongly controls predominant soil environments and associated vegetation. Well-developed soils with dense grass cover extensively mantle the mesic north-aspect hillslopes, while more xeric south-aspect hillslopes are dominated by thin colluvium with minimal soil development, extensive bedrock exposure, and desertscrub vegetation. Remnants of older colluvium with moderately developed soils on south aspects, however, indicate they were once more extensively mantled by thicker colluvial deposits. The transition to drier conditions in the Holocene diminished vegetation cover on more xeric south aspects, triggering widespread erosion, whereas the more mesic north aspects retained denser grass cover that minimized erosion. The transition to drier conditions in the Holocene altered the vegetation; however, persistent perennial grass cover minimized erosion into the middle Holocene. Increasing aridity during the middle Holocene significantly reduced grass cover on more xeric south aspects, triggering erosion and alluvial deposition. OSL dates of dust incorporated into terrace sediments indicate late Middle Holocene aggradation and soil development in the Late Holocene. In contrast, maintenance of substantial perennial grass cover on mesic north aspects minimized erosion from those hillslopes throughout the Holocene.
Late Quaternary geochronologic record of soil formation and erosion: Effects of climate change on Mojave Desert hillslopes (Nevada, USA)
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L.P. Persico, L.D. McFadden, J.R. McAuliffe, T.M. Rittenour, T.E. Stahlecker, S.B. Dunn, S.A.T. Brody; Late Quaternary geochronologic record of soil formation and erosion: Effects of climate change on Mojave Desert hillslopes (Nevada, USA). Geology 2021; doi: https://doi.org/10.1130/G49270.1
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