US Geological Survey


Date of this Version



Published in Quaternary Research 60 (2003) 110–122.


Recent stratigraphic studies in central Alaska have yielded the unexpected finding that there is little evidence for full-glacial (late Wisconsin) loess deposition. Because the loess record of western Alaska is poorly exposed and not well known, we analyzed a core from Zagoskin Lake, a maar lake on St. Michael Island, to determine if a full-glacial eolian record could be found in that region. Particle size and geochemical data indicate that the mineral fraction of the lake sediments is not derived from the local basalt and is probably eolian. Silt deposition took place from at least the latter part of the mid-Wisconsin interstadial period through the Holocene, based on radiocarbon dating. Based on the locations of likely loess sources, eolian silt in western Alaska was probably deflated by northeasterly winds from glaciofluvial sediments. If last-glacial winds that deposited loess were indeed from the northeast, this reconstruction is in conflict with a model-derived reconstruction of paleowinds in Alaska. Mass accumulation rates in Zagoskin Lake were higher during the Pleistocene than during the Holocene. In addition, more eolian sediment is recorded in the lake sediments than as loess on the adjacent landscape. The thinner loess record on land may be due to the sparse, herb tundra vegetation that dominated the landscape in full-glacial time. Herb tundra would have been an inefficient loess trap compared to forest or even shrub tundra due to its low roughness height. The lack of abundant, full-glacial, eolian silt deposition in the loess stratigraphic record of central Alaska may be due, therefore, to a mimimal ability of the landscape to trap loess, rather than a lack of available eolian sediment.