US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Chapter 16 in: P. Knippertz and J.-B.W. Stuut (eds.), Mineral Dust: A Key Player in the Earth System, DOI 10.1007/978-94-017-8978-3__16,


U.S. government work


Loess is aeolian sediment, dominated by silt-sized particles, that is identifiable in the field as a distinct sedimentary body. It covers a significant portion of the land surface of the Earth and as such constitutes one of the most important archives of long-term dust deposition. Large tracts of loess cover Europe, Asia, South America, and North America, and smaller loess bodies are found covering parts of Africa, the Middle East, New Zealand, and Australia. Loess thickness, particle size, and carbonate content decrease downwind from sources, trends that are powerful tools for reconstructing paleowinds. Many loess sections consist of relatively thick deposits of mostly unaltered sediment with intercalated paleosols. Paleosols represent periods of landscape stability when loess deposition ceased or at least slowed significantly. Studies from several continents show that loess in most regions was deposited during glacial periods and paleosols formed during interglacial and interstadial periods.