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Dust storms and Chinese loess sources over the last 22 Million years

Dust storms and Chinese loess sources is a Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC) funded three year project based in the Centre of Quaternary Research of the Department of Geography at Royal Holloway. 

Atmospheric dust is a critical driver of global climate change as it effects how much of the Sun's radiation is absorbed, changes cloud formation and drives changes in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by fertilising oceanic productivity. However, there are large gaps in our understanding of dust, meaning that it is often not properly included in many climate models that forecast future climate. Plugging these gaps by establishing the source, flux, controls and response of dust are therefore pressing priorities. Check out our Why study dust section of the website to find out more about dust. Current dust studies are mainly focused on the present but understanding its role in both abrupt and long-term climate change requires looking back at long term archives. One of the most valuable climate archives is the Chinese Loess Plateau which covers an area of approximately 640,000 km2 and contains a 22 million year (Ma) record of dust deposition, preserved as 'loess' sediments, and climate proxies. This is one of the greatest archives of past dust activity we have and it is therefore an ideal area to study long term dust deposition and can provide great insight into dust movement in the past. The location of the Loess Plateau is shown in the diagram below. The map will also link you to potential loess source areas where you will find out more about these regions. 

Chinese Dust Tarim Basin (Taklamakan) Tibetan Plateau Qaidam Basin Qilian Mountains Yellow River Source Lakes Badain Jaran Desert Tengger Desert Chinese Loess Desert Mu Us Desert Horqin Sandy Land   

The deposition and alteration of the loess sediments within the Chinese Loess Plateau is closely linked to climate, especially wind speed, source production, changes in sediment capture and the hydrological cycle. The source of Chinese loess is not well understood, meaning that the climatic and tectonic controls on dust production over both sub-millennial and long-term multi-mellennial timescales are also not well known, severely limiting the utility of this valuable archive for research into the past dust cycle. 

This project aims to analyse individual grains of dust (loess) and possible source sediment to;

  • Determine dust sources for loess in China over the past 22 Ma since deposition started.
  • Calculate the relative dust flux derived from specific sources.
  • Constrain the extent and type of controls on both abrupt and long-term shifts in these sources.
  • Constrain the type of atmospheric systems responsible for past dust transport.

To find out how we are aiming to do this please look at our Research section of the website.

Lantian L2S2 

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