Characterising Chinese loess stratigraphy and past monsoon variation using field spectroscopy

Mike J. Smith, Thomas Stevens, Alasdair MacArthur, Tim J. Malthus, Huayu Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

The loess record in China constitutes one of the most important archives of past environmental change and specifically, the East Asian monsoon system. Changes in summer monsoon driven pedogenesis are commonly inferred from magnetic susceptibility of loess. However, there is still controversy as to the signal's origin and the uncertain effects of sediment accumulation rates. This is linked to a wider problem that is emerging from recent work; that of the relative importance on proxy records such as magnetic susceptibility of both regional climate patterns (i.e. the monsoon) and local site-specific influences, particularly modulated through site-specific sedimentation rate. At present this is poorly constrained and significantly increases the degree of uncertainty over the wider-scale applicability of climate reconstructions from individual sites. To resolve this issue for sub-orbital timescales, a rapidly deployable technique is needed that can be used to test multiple sites and differentiate between local and regional signals. This research develops the first use of full spectrum reflectance spectroscopy in studying loess in the field at one site on the south of the Loess Plateau, and utilises statistical analyses to compare such data with magnetic susceptibility records. Establishment of loess reflectance as a proxy for climate variability will potentially allow extension of the technique from point measurements to an imaging system and so enable the compilation of large data sets in order to investigate lateral facies variations in loess profiles. This may allow the extraction of a broad scale climate record.

Field spectra were obtained from 350 to 1100 nm, with red edge reflectance spectra indicating the presence of iron-oxides, previously demonstrated to be indicators of pedogenesis through laboratory measurements. An off the shelf camera was also tested with visible wavelength spectra being useful for rapid but general profile characterisation. In order to mitigate the effects of bidirectional reflectance distribution function (a potential problem in field measurements), further laboratory measurement was made of powdered samples (400-2400 nm). Absorption features indicative of montmorillonite and illite/muscovite were noted and stepwise regression modelling utilising absolute reflectance, first derivative spectra and continuum removed spectra indicated strong predictive relationships with magnetic susceptibility, particularly against the presence of montmorillonite. The abundance of such clay minerals could be used to infer weathering rates and hence be used as a proxy for pedogensis. Reconstructions for the studied site are presented and demonstrate the potential power of loess reflectance environmental reconstruction. (C) 2010 Elsevier Ltd and INQUA. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)146-158
Number of pages13
JournalQuaternary International
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2011


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