US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Aeolian Research 9 (2013), pp. 3–48



U.S. government work


Study of geologic records of dust composition, sources and deposition rates is important for understanding the role of dust in the overall planetary radiation balance, fertilization of organisms in the world’s oceans, nutrient additions to the terrestrial biosphere and soils, and for paleoclimatic reconstructions. Both glacial and non-glacial processes produce fine-grained particles that can be transported by the wind. Geologic records of dust flux occur in a number of depositional archives for sediments: (1) loess deposits; (2) lake sediments; (3) soils; (4) deep-ocean basins; and (5) ice sheets and smaller glaciers. These archives have several characteristics that make them highly suitable for understanding the dynamics of dust entrainment, transport, and deposition. First, they are often distributed over wide geographic areas, which permits reconstruction of spatial variation of dust flux. Second, a number of dating methods can be applied to sediment archives, which allows identification of specific periods of greater or lesser dust flux. Third, aeolian sediment particle size and composition can be determined so that dust source areas can be ascertained and dust transport pathways can be reconstructed. Over much of the Earth’s surface, dust deposition rates were greater during the last glacial period than during the present interglacial period. A dustier Earth during glacial periods is likely due to increased source areas, greater aridity, less vegetation, lower soil moisture, possibly stronger winds, a decreased intensity of the hydrologic cycle, and greater production of dust-sized particles from expanded ice sheets and glaciers.