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Volume 21 Issue 4/5 (April/May 2011)

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Article, pp. 4-10 | Full Text | PDF (1MB)

Wind erosion in the Qaidam basin, central Asia: Implications for tectonics, paleoclimate, and the source of the Loess Plateau

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Paul Kapp1*, Jon D. Pelletier1**, Alexander Rohrmann1**, Richard Heermance2, Joellen Russell3, Lin Ding4

1 Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, 1040 E 4th St., Tucson, Arizona, 85721, USA
2 Dept. of Geological Sciences, California State University, Northridge, California 91330-8266
3 Dept. of Geosciences, University of Arizona, 1040 E 4th St., Tucson, Arizona, 85721, USA
4 Institute of Tibetan Plateau Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100085, People’s Republic of China


Liquid water and ice are the dominant agents of erosion and sediment transport in most actively growing mountain belts. An exception is in the western Qaidam basin along the northeastern margin of the Tibetan Plateau, where wind and wind-blown sand have sculpted enormous yardang fields in actively folding sedimentary strata. Here, we present observations suggesting that since the late Pliocene, wind episodically (during glacial and stadial periods) removed strata from the western Qaidam basin at high rates (>0.12–1.1 mm/yr) and may have accelerated rates of tectonic folding. Severe wind erosion likely occurred during glacial and stadial periods when central Asia was drier and the main axis of the polar jet stream was located ~10° closer to the equator (over the Qaidam basin), as predicted by global climate models. Reconstructed wind patterns, the estimated volume of Qaidam basin material removed by wind, and numerical models of dust transport all support the hypothesis that the Qaidam basin was a major source of dust to the Loess Plateau.


**Now at Institut für Geowissenschaften, Universität Potsdam, 14476 Potsdam, Germany

Manuscript received 13 Apr. 2010; accepted 20 Sept. 2010

DOI: 10.1130/GSATG99A.1