Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


Date of this Version

September 2003


Published in Catena 53 (2003) 377–397. Copyright 2003 Elsevier Science B.V. Used by permission.


Loess grain size data used to infer transport direction or wind strength are generally derived from vigorously disaggregated samples. However, these data may not adequately represent the effective particle size distribution during loess transport, if the transported dust contained aggregates of fine-grained material. Thin sections of minimally altered C and BC horizons in the late Pleistocene Peoria Loess of Nebraska, USA, indicate the presence of aggregates with diameters of 30–1000 Am. The larger aggregates (>250 μm) are unlikely to have been transported, and are interpreted as the result of soil faunal activity and other pedogenic processes after deposition. Aggregates smaller than 250 Am could have a similar origin, but laser diffraction particle size analysis suggests that many are sedimentary particles. Comparison of minimally and fully dispersed particle size distributions from each sampling site was used to estimate the modal diameter of aggregates. The aggregate modal diameter becomes finer with decreasing loess thickness, representing increasing distance from the source. A similar trend was observed in the modal diameter of fully dispersed particle size distributions, which represents the mode of sand and silt transported as individual grains. We interpret both trends as the result of sorting during transport, supporting the interpretation that many of the aggregates were transported rather than formed in place. Aggregate content appears to increase with distance from the source, explaining a much more rapid downwind increase in clay content than would be expected if clay were transported as particles smaller than 2 Am diameter. Although the Peoria Loess of Nebraska contains sedimentary aggregates, many of the coarse silt and sand grains in this loess were transported as primary particles, were thoroughly exposed to sunlight and are potentially well suited for luminescence dating.