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© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 04 Nov 2019

Submitted as: research article | 04 Nov 2019

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This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Solid Earth (SE).

Sediment history mirrors Pleistocene aridification in the Gobi Desert (Ejina Basin, NW China)

Georg Schwamborn1,2, Kai Hartmann1, Bernd Wünnemann1,3, Wolfgang Rösler4, Annette Wefer-Roehl5, Jörg Pross6, and Bernhard Diekmann2 Georg Schwamborn et al.
  • 1Freie Universität Berlin, Applied Physical Geography, 12249 Berlin, Germany
  • 2Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, 14473 Potsdam, Germany
  • 3East China Normal University, State Key Laboratory of Estuarine and Coastal Research, Shanghai 200241, China
  • 4University of Tuebingen, Department of Geosciences, 72074 Tuebingen, Germany
  • 5Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung, 60325 Frankfurt, Germany
  • 6Institute of Earth Sciences, Heidelberg University, 69120 Heidelberg, Germany

Abstract. Central Asia is a large-scale source of dust transport, but also holds a prominent changing hydrological system during the Quaternary. A 223-m-long sediment core (GN200) was recovered from the Ejina Basin (synonymously Gaxun Nur Basin) in NW China to reconstructing the main transitional modes of water availability in the area during the Quaternary. The core has been drilled from the Heihe alluvial fan, one of the world's largest continental alluvial fan, which covers a part of the Gobi Desert. Grain-size distributions supported by endmember modelling analyses, geochemical-mineralogical compositions (based on XRF and XRD measurements), and bioindicator data (ostracods, gastropods, n-alkanes with leaf-wax δD) are used to infer the main transport processes and related environmental changes during the Pleistocene. Magnetostratigraphy supported by radionuclide dating provides the age model. Grain-size endmembers indicate that lake, playa (sheetflood), fluvial, and aeolian dynamics are the major factors influencing sedimentation in the Ejina Basin. Core GN200 reached the Pre-Quaternary quartz- and plagioclase-rich Red Clay Formation and reworked material derived from it in the core bottom. This part is overlain by silt-dominated sediments between 217 and 110 m core depth, which represent a period of lacustrine and playa-lacustrine sedimentation that presumably formed within an endorheic basin. The upper core half between 110 and 0 m is composed of mainly silty to sandy sediments derived from the Heihe River that have accumulated in a giant sediment fan until modern time. Apart from the transition from a siltier to a sandier environment with frequent switches between sediment types upcore, the clay mineral fraction is indicative for different environments. Mixed layer clay minerals (chlorite/smectite) are increased in the basal Red Clay Formation and reworked sediments, smectite is indicative for lacustrine-playa deposits, and an increased chlorite content is characteristic of the Heihe river deposits. The sediment succession in core GN200 based on the detrital proxy interpretation demonstrates that lake-playa sedimentation in the Ejina Basin has been disrupted likely due to tectonic events in the southern part of the catchment around 1 Ma BP. At this time Heihe river broke through from the Hexi Corridor through the Heli Shan ridge into the northern Ejina Basin. This initiated the alluvial fan progradation into the Ejina Basin. Presently the sediment bulge repels the diminishing lacustrine environment further north. In this sense, the uplift of the hinterland served as a tipping element that triggered landscape transformation in the Northern Tibetan foreland (i.e., the Hexi Corridor) and further on in the adjacent northern intracontinental Ejina Basin. The onset of alluvial fan formation coincides with increased sedimentation rates on the Chinese loess plateau, suggesting that the Heihe fluvial/alluvial fan may have served as a prominent upwind sediment source for it.

Georg Schwamborn et al.
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Georg Schwamborn et al.
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GN200 sediment core from the Gaxun Nur basin (Ejina basin), NW China G. Schwamborn

Georg Schwamborn et al.
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Short summary
We use a sediment core from the Gobi Desert (Ejina Basin, NW China) to illustrate the environmental history of the area. During 2.5 million years a sediment package of 223 m thickness has been accumulated. Various sediment types document that the area turned from a lake setting to a playa environment (shallow water environment with multiple flooding events) and finally to an alluvial-fluvial environment after the arrival of the Hei River in the area. The river has been diverted due to tectonics.
We use a sediment core from the Gobi Desert (Ejina Basin, NW China) to illustrate the...