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Keywords:

  • Chinese Loess Plateau;
  • clay minerals;
  • grain size;
  • loess;
  • pedogenesis

Abstract

Grain-size data from different climatic zones across the Chinese Loess Plateau show that the loess generally contains an ultrafine component, which has a consistent modal grain size of ca 0·37 μm and a variable proportion of 4 to 10%. The variation of the ultrafine component through a loess section is characterized by a high proportion and fine grain size in palaeosols, and by a low proportion and coarse grain size in loess layers. Its proportional content in a stratum roughly increases from north-west to south-east across the Loess Plateau. Quantitative X-ray diffraction analysis indicates that the ultrafine component is composed mainly of clay minerals (ca 70%), which are mostly illite (ca 80%), and with significant amounts of kaolinite (ca 8%) and chlorite (ca 2%). The temporal and spatial variations of the ultrafine component, and the degree of illite crystallinity, suggest that this component in aeolian sediments is linked closely to the process of pedogenesis. Weakly altered loess on the north-western margin of the Loess Plateau contains considerable amounts of detrital clay minerals derived from the aeolian source areas. Results from a loess section with a basal age of 7·6 Ma in the central Loess Plateau show that the ultrafine component increased from 7·6 to 5 Ma, and progressively decreased thereafter. This trend was punctuated by two abrupt changes at 2·6 and 0·6 Ma. These variations reflect to a considerable extent the history of pedogenesis during the Late Cenozoic.