The Loess Plateau of China: Aeolian Sedimentation and Fluvial Erosion, Both with Superlative Rates

  • Xiaoping Yang
  • Tao Liu
  • Baoyin Yuan


Loess, draped over various types of bedrock landforms, is found in about 10% of the land surface on Earth. Among various loess landscapes in the world, the Loess Plateau of China, located in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, is the largest terrain of continuous and thickest loess sedimentation, offering probably the best terrestrial record for research on Quaternary palaeoclimatic changes. Prior to loess deposition, karst landforms formed in Cambrian and Ordovician carbonates, sandstone hills and basins were common in the area of the present-day Loess Plateau. The major components of contemporary relief are tablelands (Yuan), long ridges (Liang) and round hills (Mao), all named after local folks’ language. Secondary erosion forms, such as gullies and dolines, have been impressively developed in the Loess Plateau, and their formation may have accompanied loess sedimentation for a long time, mostly in the Quaternary but occasionally much earlier. Erosion and collapse processes have been tremendously enhanced during historical times due to strong human impact.


China gully erosion human activity loess tableland 



We would like to thank the Chinese Academy of Sciences (Grant no.: kzcx2-yw-119) and the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant no.: 40671020) for financial support.


  1. Chen L, Wei W, Fu B, Lue Y (2007) Soil and water conservation on the Loess Plateau in China: Review and perspective. Prog Phys Geogr 31:389–403CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Derbyshire E (1983) Origin and characteristics of some Chinese loess at two locations in China. In: Brookfield M, Ahlbrandt T (eds) Eolian sediments and processes. Elsevier, Amsterdam, pp 69–90CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ding Z, Rutter N, Sun J, Yang S, Liu T (2000) Re-arrangement of atmospheric circulation at about 2.6 Ma over northern China: evidence from grain size records of loess-palaeosol and red clay sequences. Quat Sci Rev 19:547–558CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Fu B, Zhao W, Chen L, Zhang Q, Lue Y, Gulinck H, Poesen J (2005) Assessment of soil erosion at large watershed scale using RUSLE and GIS: A case study in the Loess Plateau of China. Land Degr Dev 16:73–85CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Guo Z, Ruddiman W, Hao Q, Wu H, Qiao Y, Zhu R, Peng S, Wei J, Yuan B, Liu T (2002) Onset of Asian desertification by 22 myr ago inferred from loess deposits in China. Nature 416:159–163CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Heller F, Liu T (1982) Magnetostratigraphical dating of loess deposits in China. Nature 300:431–433CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Hessel R, Messing I, Chen L, Ritsema C, Stolte J (2003) Soil erosion simulations of land use scenarios for a small Loess Plateau catchment. Catena 54:289–302CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Jiang F, Fu J, Wang S, Sun D, Zhao Z (2007) Formation of the Yellow River, inferred from loess – palaeosol sequence in Mangshan and lacustrine sediments in Sanmen Gorge, China. Quat Int 175:62–70CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Liu T (1985) Loess and the environment. China Ocean Press, BeijingGoogle Scholar
  10. Shi N (1985) Changes of forest and grassland in the Loess Plateau. Shaanxi People’s Press, Xian (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  11. Thompson G, Turk J (2005) Earth science and the environment, 3rd edn. Brooks/Cole, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  12. Yang X (2001) Late quaternary evolution and Paleoclimates, Western Alashan Plateau, Inner Mongolia, China. Z Geomorph 45:1–16Google Scholar
  13. Yang X, Pretzsch K (1999) Die chinesische Drei-Schlucten-Talsperre – ein Grossprojekt mit Kontroversen. Geoökodynamik 20:231–243Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Xiaoping Yang
    • 1
  • Tao Liu
    • 1
  • Baoyin Yuan
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute of Geology and Geophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)BeijingChina

Personalised recommendations