US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



In: ENCYCLOPEDIA OF QUATERNARY SCIENCE, Editor-in-Chief Scott A. Elias. Amsterdam, etc. (Elsevier, 2007), pp. 1405-1418.


U.S. government work


Loess is an eolian (windblown) sediment that is an important archive of Quaternary climate changes. It may provide one of the most complete terrestrial records of interglacial–glacial cycles. Loess is unusual as a record of Quaternary climate change because it is one of the few sediments that is deposited directly from the atmosphere. Thus, it is a geologic deposit that contains a record of atmospheric circulation and can be used to reconstruct synoptic-scale paleoclimatology. Loess is also unusual in that it can be dated directly using ‘trapped electron’ or luminescence methods that require only the sediment itself. Commonly, loess deposits are not homogenous sediments, but most contain buried soils, or paleosols. It is the combination of both unaltered loess deposits and intercalated paleosols that gives this sedimentary record much of its richness as a Quaternary paleoclimate record.