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Concept: Loess Plateau


In the Loess Plateau, soil erosion has not only caused serious ecological and environmental problems but has also impacted downstream areas. Therefore, a model is needed to guide the comprehensive control of soil erosion. In this study, we introduced the WEPP model to simulate soil erosion both at the slope and watershed scales. Our analyses showed that: the simulated values at the slope scale were very close to the measured. However, both the runoff and soil erosion simulated values at the watershed scale were higher than the measured. At the slope scale, under different coverage, the simulated erosion was slightly higher than the measured. When the coverage is 40%, the simulated results of both runoff and erosion are the best. At the watershed scale, the actual annual runoff of the Liudaogou watershed is 83m3; sediment content is 0.097 t/m3, annual erosion sediment 8.057t and erosion intensity 0.288 t ha-1 yr-1. Both the simulated values of soil erosion and runoff are higher than the measured, especially the runoff. But the simulated erosion trend is relatively accurate after the farmland is returned to grassland. We concluded that the WEPP model can be used to establish a reasonable vegetation restoration model and guide the vegetation restoration of the Loess Plateau.

Concepts: Sediment, Soil, Erosion, Silt, Surface runoff, Geomorphology, Loess Plateau, Deforestation


The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) utilises benchmark chronostratigraphies to divide geologic time. The reliability of these records is fundamental to understand past global change. Here we use the most detailed luminescence dating age model yet published to show that the ICS chronology for the Quaternary terrestrial type section at Jingbian, desert marginal Chinese Loess Plateau, is inaccurate. There are large hiatuses and depositional changes expressed across a dynamic gully landform at the site, which demonstrates rapid environmental shifts at the East Asian desert margin. We propose a new independent age model and reconstruct monsoon climate and desert expansion/contraction for the last ~250 ka. Our record demonstrates the dominant influence of ice volume on desert expansion, dust dynamics and sediment preservation, and further shows that East Asian Summer Monsoon (EASM) variation closely matches that of ice volume, but lags insolation by ~5 ka. These observations show that the EASM at the monsoon margin does not respond directly to precessional forcing.

Concepts: China, Erosion, Monsoon, Geomorphology, Loess Plateau, Geologic time scale, Stratigraphy, International Commission on Stratigraphy


Vegetation restoration has been conducted in the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP) since the 1950s, and large areas of farmland have been converted to forest and grassland, which largely results in SOC change. However, there has been little comparative research on SOC sequestration and distribution between secondary forest and restored grassland. Therefore, we selected typical secondary forest (SF-1 and SF-2) and restored grassland (RG-1 and RG-2) sites and determined the SOC storage. Moreover, to illustrate the factors resulting in possible variance in SOC sequestration, we measured the soil δ(13)C value. The average SOC content was 6.8, 9.9, 17.9 and 20.4 g kg(-1) at sites SF-1, SF-2, RG-1 and RG-2, respectively. Compared with 0-100 cm depth, the percentage of SOC content in the top 20 cm was 55.1%, 55.3%, 23.1%, and 30.6% at sites SF-1, SF-2, RG-1 and RG-2, suggesting a higher SOC content in shallow layers in secondary forest and in deeper layers in restored grassland. The variation of soil δ(13)C values with depth in this study might be attributed to the mixing of new and old carbon and kinetic fractionation during the decomposition of SOM by microbes, whereas the impact of the Suess effect (the decline of (13)C atmospheric CO(2) values with the burning of fossil fuel since the Industrial Revolution) was minimal. The soil δ(13)C value increased sharply in the top 20 cm, which then increased slightly in deeper layers in secondary forest, indicating a main carbon source of surface litter. However the soil δ(13)C values exhibited slow increases in the whole profile in the restored grasslands, suggesting that the contribution of roots to soil carbon in deeper layers played an important role. We suggest that naturally restored grassland would be a more effective vegetation type for SOC sequestration due to higher carbon input from roots in the CLP.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Soil, Carbon, Vegetation, Grassland, Charcoal, Fossil fuel, Loess Plateau


Marine accumulations of terrigenous sediment are widely assumed to accurately record climatic- and tectonic-controlled mountain denudation and play an important role in understanding late Cenozoic mountain uplift and global cooling. Underpinning this is the assumption that the majority of sediment eroded from hinterland orogenic belts is transported to and ultimately stored in marine basins with little lag between erosion and deposition. Here we use a detailed and multi-technique sedimentary provenance dataset from the Yellow River to show that substantial amounts of sediment eroded from Northeast Tibet and carried by the river’s upper reach are stored in the Chinese Loess Plateau and the western Mu Us desert. This finding revises our understanding of the origin of the Chinese Loess Plateau and provides a potential solution for mismatches between late Cenozoic terrestrial sedimentation and marine geochemistry records, as well as between global CO2 and erosion records.

Concepts: Sediment, Sedimentary rock, People's Republic of China, Erosion, Silt, Yellow River, Geomorphology, Loess Plateau


The monsoon is a fundamental component of Earth’s climate. The Pliocene warm period is characterized by long-term global cooling yet concurrent monsoon dynamics are poorly known. Here we present the first fully quantified and calibrated reconstructions of separate Pliocene air temperature and East Asian summer monsoon precipitation histories on the Chinese Loess Plateau through joint analysis of loess/red clay magnetic parameters with different sensitivities to air temperature and precipitation. East Asian summer monsoon precipitation shows an intensified trend, paradoxically at the same time that climate cooled. We propose a hitherto unrecognized feedback where persistently intensified East Asian summer monsoon during the late Pliocene, triggered by the gradual closure of the Panama Seaway, reinforced late Pliocene Pacific freshening, sea-ice development and ice volume increase, culminating in initiation of the extensive Northern Hemisphere glaciations of the Quaternary Ice Age. This feedback mechanism represents a fundamental reinterpretation of the origin of the Quaternary glaciations and the impact of the monsoon.

Concepts: Earth, Climate, Asia, Monsoon, Pleistocene, Ice age, Glaciology, Loess Plateau


The loess stratigraphic boundary at the Pleistocene/Holocene transition defined by the magnetic susceptibility (MS) has previously been assumed to be synchronous with the Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2/1 boundary, and approximately time-synchronous at different sections across the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP). However, although this assumption has been used as a basis for proxy-age model of Chinese loess deposits, it has rarely been tested by using absolute dating methods. In this study, we applied a single-aliquot regenerative-dose (SAR) protocol to the 45-63 μm quartz grain-size fraction to derive luminescence ages for the last glacial and Holocene sections of three loess sections on a transect from southeast to northwest across the CLP. Based on the 33 closely spaced optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) samples from the three sections, OSL chronologies were established using a polynomial curve fit at each section. Based on the OSL chronology, the timing of the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary, as defined by rapid changes in MS values, is dated at ~10.5 ka, 8.5 ka and 7.5 ka in the Yaoxian section, Jingchuan and Huanxian sections respectively. These results are clearly inconsistent with the MIS 2/1 boundary age of 12.05 ka, and therefore we conclude that the automatic correlation of the Pleistocene/Holocene transition, as inferred from the MS record, with the MIS 2/1 boundary is incorrect. The results clearly demonstrate that the marked changes in MS along the southeast to northwest transect are time-transgressive among the different sites, with the timing of significant paleosol development as indicated by the MS record being delayed by 3-4 ka in the northwest compared to the southeast. Our results suggest that this asynchronous paleosol development during the last deglacial was caused by the delayed arrival of the summer monsoon in the northwest CLP compared to the southeast.

Concepts: Southeast Asia, Erosion, Magnetic susceptibility, Yellow River, Section, Loess, Loess Plateau, Absolute dating


Glacial-interglacial changes in the distribution of C3/C4 vegetation on the Chinese Loess Plateau have been related to East Asian summer monsoon intensity and position, and could provide insights into future changes caused by global warming. Here, we present δ(13)C records of bulk organic matter since the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) from 21 loess sections across the Loess Plateau. The δ(13)C values (range: -25‰ to -16‰) increased gradually both from the LGM to the mid-Holocene in each section and from northwest to southeast in each time interval. During the LGM, C4 biomass increased from <5% in the northwest to 10-20% in the southeast, while during the mid-Holocene C4 vegetation increased throughout the Plateau, with estimated biomass increasing from 10% to 20% in the northwest to >40% in the southeast. The spatial pattern of C4 biomass in both the LGM and the mid-Holocene closely resembles that of modern warm-season precipitation, and thus can serve as a robust analog for the contemporary East Asian summer monsoon rain belt. Using the 10-20% isolines for C4 biomass in the cold LGM as a reference, we derived a minimum 300-km northwestward migration of the monsoon rain belt for the warm Holocene. Our results strongly support the prediction that Earth’s thermal equator will move northward in a warmer world. The southward displacement of the monsoon rain belt and the drying trend observed during the last few decades in northern China will soon reverse as global warming continues.

Concepts: Time, Southeast Asia, Earth, Precipitation, Monsoon, Pleistocene, Glaciology, Loess Plateau


Ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB) oxidize ammonia into nitrite, the first and rate-limiting step of microbial nitrification, and exert major controls over soil nitrogen transformations. The Loess Plateau in northwest China is characterized with deep soils that are often exposed to the surface and reactive nitrogen (N) inputs due to erosion and human removal of the surface soil. However, few have examined the distribution of AOA and AOB along the profile of Loess Plateau soils and their responses to N inputs. We examined the abundance and diversity of AOA and AOB along the soil profile (0-100cm) and their responses to two levels of N inputs (low at 10, and high at 100μgNg-1 soil) in a 55-d incubation experiment. While AOB were most numerous in the surface soil (0-20cm), AOA were most abundant in the subsoils (20-40 and 40-60cm), suggesting a niche differentiation between AOA and AOB along the soil profile. High N input increased AOB nearly ten-fold in the upper two layers of soils (0-20 and 20-40cm) and sixteen to twenty-five fold in the deeper soil layers (40-60, 60-80 and 80-100cm). However, it only increased AOA by 7% (40-60cm) to 48% (20-40cm). In addition, potential nitrification rate and N2O emissions correlated only with AOB. Finally, high N input significantly increased AOB diversity and led to nitrite accumulation in deep soil layers (60-80 and 80-100cm). Together, our results showed that high N input can significantly alter the diversity and function of ammonia-oxidizing microbes in the deep soil of Loess Plateau, suggesting the need to examine the generality of the observed changes and their potential environmental impacts.

Concepts: Archaea, Bacteria, Soil, Nitrogen, Erosion, Microorganism, Soil horizon, Loess Plateau


Vegetation is a key component of the ecosystem and plays an important role in water retention and resistance to soil erosion. In this study, we used a multiyear normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) dataset (1982-2013) and corresponding datasets for observed climatic variables to analyze changes in the NDVI at both temporal and spatial scales. The relationships between NDVI, climate change, and human activities were also investigated. The annual average NDVI showed an upward trend over the 32-year study period, especially in the center of the Loess Plateau. NDVI variations lagged behind monthly temperature changes by approximately 1 month. The contribution of human activities to variations in NDVI has become increasingly significant in recent years, with human activities responsible for 30.4% of the change in NDVI during the period 2001-2013. The increased vegetation coverage has reduced soil erosion on the Loess Plateau in recent years. It is suggested that natural restoration of vegetation is the most effective measure for control of erosion; engineering measures that promote this should feature in the future governance of the Loess Plateau.

Concepts: Climate, Soil, Ecosystem, Climate change, Erosion, Silt, Loess Plateau, Deforestation


The pulsed events of rainstorm erosion on the Loess Plateau are well-known, but little information is available concerning the characteristics of superficial soil erosion processes caused by heavy rainstorms at the watershed scale. This study statistically evaluated characteristics of pulsed runoff-erosion events based on 17 observed rainstorms from 1997-2010 in a small loess watershed on the Loess Plateau of China. Results show that: 1) Rainfall is the fundamental driving force of soil erosion on hillslopes, but the correlations of rainfall-runoff and rainfall-sediment in different rainstorms are often scattered due to infiltration-excess runoff and soil conservation measures. 2) Relationships between runoff and sediment for each rainstorm event can be regressed by linear, power, logarithmic and exponential functions. Cluster Analysis is helpful in classifying runoff-erosion events and formulating soil conservation strategies for rainstorm erosion. 3) Response characteristics of sediment yield are different in different levels of pulsed runoff-erosion events. Affected by rainfall intensity and duration, large changes may occur in the interactions between flow and sediment for different flood events. Results provide new insights into runoff-erosion processes and will assist soil conservation planning in the loess hilly region.

Concepts: Water, Soil, Erosion, Silt, Surface runoff, Rain, Loess Plateau, Deforestation