Eolian dust constitutes much of the pedogenic material in late Pleistocene and Holocene soils of many arid regions of the world. Comparison of the compositions and influx rates of modern dust with the eolian component of dated soils at 24 sites in southern Nevada and California yields information on (1) the composition and influx rate of dust in late Pleistocene and Holocene soils, (2) paleoclimate and its effects on the genesis of aridic soils, especially with regard to dustfall events, (3) the timing and relative contribution of dust from playa sources versus alluvial sources, and (4) the effects of accumulation of dust in soil horizons.

The <2 mm fractions of A and B horizons of soils formed on gravelly alluvial-fan deposits in the study area are similar to modern dust in grain size, content of CaCO3 and salt, major oxides, and clay mineralogy; thus, they are interpreted to consist largely of dust. The major-oxide compositions of the shallow soil horizons are nearly identical to that of the modern dust, but the compositions of progressively deeper horizons approach that of the parent material. The clay mineralogy of modern dust at a given site is similar to that of the Av horizons of nearby Holocene soils but is commonly different from the mineralogies of deeper soil horizons and of the Av horizons of nearby Pleistocene soils. These results are interpreted to indicate that dust both accumulates and is transformed in Av horizons with time.

Changes in soil-accumulation rates provide insights into the interplay of paleoclimate, dust supply, and soil-forming processes. Modern dust-deposition rates are more than large enough to account for middle and late Holocene soil-accumulation rates at nearly all sites. However, the early Holocene soil-accumulation rates in areas near late Pleistocene pluvial lakes are much higher than modern rates and clearly indicate a dust-deflation and -deposition event that caused rapid formation of fine-grained shallow soil horizons on uppermost Pleistocene and lower Holocene deposits. We interpret late Pleistocene soil-accumulation rates to indicate that dust-deposition rates were low during this period but that increased effective moisture during the late Wisconsinan favored translocation of clay and CaCO3 from near the surface to deeper in the soil profile. Pre–late Pleistocene rates are very low in most areas, mainly due to a pedogenic threshold that was crossed when accumulations of silt, clay, and CaCO3 began to inhibit the downward transport of eolian material, but in part due to erosion.

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