The provenance of Taklamakan desert sand

In an article in EPSL, following the conclusion of a three-year, multidisciplinary research project, we analyse a 'Big Data' multi-proxy data set derived from samples collected in the Tarim Basin (Xinjiang, China), to understand the likely sediment sources and pathways in this area. The Taklamakan is a significant producer of atmospheric dust. Our larger goal was to compare the Tarim Basin sediments to the extensive aeolian sequences found on the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP), and to establish whether the Taklamakan could be a source of this material. From chemical, mineralogical and petrological datasets derived from 39 sites, we determined that the bulk of Taklamakan desert sand comes from the Kunlun Mountains in the south, and is transported by seasonal fluvial processes against the dominant northerly wind direction. The Junggar Basin north of the Tian Shan plays no major role as a sediment source for the Tarim Basin. Compositional similarity between Taklamakan sands and the CLP likely reflects a common source, rather than direct aeolian transport from the former to the latter.

Rittner, M., Vermeesch, P., Carter, A., Bird, A., Stevens, T., Garzanti, E., Andò, S., Vezzoli, G., Dutt, R., Xu, Z., Lu, H., 2016. The provenance of Taklamakan desert sand. Earth Planet. Sci. Lett. 437, 127–137. doi:10.1016/j.epsl.2015.12.036