US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in GSA Bulletin; December 1999; v. 111; no. 12; p. 1876–1883.


A new application of the Pb isotopic tracer technique has been used to determine the relative importance of different silt sources for late Wisconsin loess in the central Great Plains of eastern Colorado. Samples of the Peoria Loess collected throughout the study area contain K-feldspar derived from two isotopically and genetically distinct sources: (1) glaciogenic material from Early and Middle Proterozoic crystalline rocks of the Colorado province, and (2) volcaniclastic material from the Tertiary White River Group exposed on the northern Great Plains. Pb isotopic compositions of K-feldspar in loess from two dated vertical sections (at Beecher Island and Last Chance, Colorado) vary systematically, implying climatic control of source availability. We propose a model whereby relatively cold conditions promoted the advance of Front Range valley glaciers discharging relatively little glaciogenic silt, but strong winds caused eolian erosion of White River Group silt due to a decrease in vegetation cover. During warmer periods, valley glaciers receded and discharged abundant glaciogenic silt, while surfaces underlain by the White River Group were stabilized by vegetation. Isotopic data from eastern Colorado loess sections record two warm-cold-warm cycles during late Wisconsin time between about 21,000 and 11,000 radiocarbon yr B.P., similar to results from other studies in the United States and Greenland.