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The development and application of luminescence dating to loess deposits: a perspective on the past, present and future


  • Helen M. Roberts (e-mail:, Institute of Geography and Earth Sciences, Aberystwyth University, Ceredigion, Wales, SY23 3DB, UK


Loess deposits preserve important records of Quaternary climate change and atmospheric dust flux; however, their full significance can only be revealed once a reliable chronology is established. Our understanding of loess-palaeosol sequences and the development of luminescence dating techniques have progressed hand-in-hand over the past 25 years, with each subject informing the advancement of the other. This article considers the development and application of luminescence dating techniques to loess deposits from the early days of thermoluminescence (TL) to the optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) methods utilized today. Recent technological and methodological advances have led to a step-change in the accuracy and precision of quartz OSL ages; this has led to an expansion of high-resolution luminescence studies, which in turn are informing loess studies and challenging some of the basic ideas regarding the nature of loess records, their formation and their significance. Future luminescence research efforts are likely to focus on extending the age range of luminescence techniques, possibly by utilizing new luminescence signals; this, again, will allow investigation of the long-term variability of loess records in comparison with other long records of climate change to which they are frequently compared.