The provenance of late Cenozoic East Asian Red Clay: Tectonic-metamorphic history of potential source regions and a novel combined zircon-rutile approach

Katja Bohm, Thomas Stevens, Anu Kaakinen, Yann Lahaye, Hugh O'Brien, Zhaoqun Zhang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Constraining the provenance of aeolian mineral dust is critical in understanding past climate changes, atmospheric dust activity, circulation, and sediment generation. On the Chinese Loess Plateau (CLP), use of detrital zircon U-Pb age data as source tracers for the dust has seen a huge growth and lead to breakthroughs in understanding dust provenance. However, significant ambiguities remain especially regarding the provenance of the aeolian Neogene Red Clay (RC). To address this, here we review the state of the art of understanding of Neogene RC provenance, with a focus on single-grain analyses, and introduce detrital rutile geochemistry as a tool to complement zircon U-Pb dating. Furthermore, to better utilise the link between the detrital minerals and their primary origin, we compile primary source region geologic background and single-grain data relevant for use of geochronological and metamorphic provenance proxy minerals. We discuss four major tectonic divisions in northern China and southern Mongolia: North China Craton (NCC), Tarim Craton (TC), Central China Orogen (CCO), parts of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt (CAOB), and briefly summarize the Tibetan-Himalayan orogen. Many of these regions have been tectonically active during the same time periods in the Earth's history, and our analysis demonstrates how use of zircon age data alone has limitations in differentiating between a number of key potential dust sources to the CLP. Addition of a metamorphic source tracer such as rutile allows some of these possible source areas to be distinguished. For example, the proximal northern NCC regions that show high-/ ultrahigh-temperature metamorphic conditions can potentially be diagnostic of a northerly source component to CLP dust. Our combined zircon-rutile data analysis of ca. 4 Ma Nihewan RC in northern CLP verifies the utility of the novel rutile provenance proxy in sourcing CLP sediments. The zircon and rutile data suggest similar dust provenance: the dominant sources are proximal areas on the NCC, while contributions from the dry areas in parts of the CAOB, central deserts, and the Yellow River are also likely. Our results also hint at a minor source component deriving from distal western source regions in the TC, and/or in the central parts of the CCO, but rutile data from potential secondary source areas are needed to verify this possibility. We also conclude that multi-proxy single-grain provenance analyses are needed for more reliable provenance analyses.

Original languageEnglish
Article number103909
JournalEarth - Science Reviews
Number of pages34
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2022
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 1171 Geosciences
  • Mineral dust
  • Single-grain provenance
  • Detrital zircon
  • Detrital rutile
  • Chinese Loess Plateau
  • Nihewan
  • U-PB AGE
  • PAST 8 MA

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