Asian Winter Monsoons in the Eocene: Evidence from the Aeolian Dust Series of the Xining Basin
Thursday, 18 December 2014
The aeolian dust deposits of the Chinese Loess Plateau are attributed to spring and winter monsoonal storms sweeping clastic material from the deserts of the Asian interior into central China and are reported to begin 25-22 million years (Myr) ago. The beginning of aeolian dust sedimentation has been attributed to the onset of central Asia desertification and winter monsoonal circulation, and are commonly linked to development of high topographic relief associated with the Tibetan-Himalayan orogenic system. However, recent papers suggest that the core of the Tibetan Plateau may have reached significant elevation since the earliest phases of the India-Asia collision 55 Myr ago.
Here, we extend the sedimentary record of the Chinese Loess Plateau at its western margin to include the late Eocene - late Oligocene deposits of the Xining Basin, which were deposited between 41 and 25 Myr ago based on detailed magnetostratigraphy. The particle size, shape, and surface microtexture of quartz grains in these deposits display textures indicative of prolonged aeolian transport; grain-size distributions show a bimodal distribution similar to Miocene through Quaternary deposits of the Chinese Loess Plateau. The clay mineralogy of the finer fraction and U/Pb zircon ages of the coarser fraction from Xining Loess sediments sampled along three sections spanning the whole studied interval are also similar to those observed in Quaternary and Neogene aeolian deposits of the Chinese Loess Plateau and thus suggest similar sources located in central China. However, slight differences in Eocene U/Pb zircon ages, such as the lack of Cenozoic ages or the scarcity of zircons older than 2000 Myr, suggest that the Tibetan Plateau may have contributed little to the aeolian dust deposition, in favor of sources located further north and west (Kunlun and Tian Shan Ranges).
The Xining deposits are thus the first direct evidence that winter monsoonal winds were active 15 Myr earlier than previously reported and indicate that the process of central Asian desertification was already significant. Together with Eocene East Asian palynological datasets and recently published paleoclimatic data from the Eocene proto-Bengal Bay, these results provide additional evidence that the monsoons are much older than previously thought.