Letter | Published:

Onset of Asian desertification by 22 Myr ago inferred from loess deposits in China

Nature volume 416, pages 159163 (14 March 2002) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The initial desertification in the Asian interior is thought to be one of the most prominent climate changes in the Northern Hemisphere during the Cenozoic era1,2,3,4. But the dating of this transition is uncertain, partly because desert sediments are usually scattered, discontinuous and difficult to date. Here we report nearly continuous aeolian deposits covering the interval from 22 to 6.2 million years ago, on the basis of palaeomagnetic measurements and fossil evidence. A total of 231 visually definable aeolian layers occur as brownish loesses interbedded with reddish soils. This new evidence indicates that large source areas of aeolian dust and energetic winter monsoon winds to transport the material must have existed in the interior of Asia by the early Miocene epoch, at least 14 million years earlier than previously thought3,5. Regional tectonic changes and ongoing global cooling are probable causes of these changes in aridity and circulation in Asia.

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Acknowledgements

We thank W. Wu, Z. Qiu, S. Zheng and Z. Qiu for the identification of micromammalian fossils, and Z.S. An, J. Guiot and R. Potts for discussions. This work is supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Project for Basic Research on Tibetan Plateau, Chuangxin and Bairen Programs of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

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  1. *Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, PO Box 9825, Beijing 100029, China

    • Z. T. Guo
    • , Q. Z. Hao
    • , H. B. Wu
    • , Y. S. Qiao
    • , R. X. Zhu
    • , S. Z. Peng
    • , J. J. Wei
    • , B. Y. Yuan
    •  & T. S. Liu
  2. †Department of Environmental Science, Clark Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903, USA

    • William F. Ruddiman

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Correspondence to Z. T. Guo.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/416159a

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