Dunefields of Northern China

Dune section in northeastern China
Badain Jaran dunes

An ongoing research program carried out in collaboration with Huayu Lu, Zhiwei Xu, Shuangwen Yi, and others at Nanjing University; Yali Zhou at Shaanxi Normal University; Jim Swinehart, Ron Goble, and Dave Loope at University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Mark Sweeney at University of South Dakota. Funding: National Science Foundation, BCS-0352683, BCS-0352748, ATM-0502489, ATM-0502511. Work by Chinese collaborators supported by several major grants from Chinese funding sources.

This is a long-term effort, beginning in 2004 and continuing up to the present. The overall goal is to understand the response of dune fields along the desert margin of northern China to climate change, in the geologic past, over the past few decades, and in the future. We have studied the stratigraphy of dune field sections, characteristics of dune field soils including the C isotopic composition of organic matter, the chronology of sand deposition and soil formation using luminescence dating, the geomorphology of the dunes using remote sensing images and field observations, and the potential for dust emission from the dunes using field experiments. The results have included a much better understanding of the timing of past dune activity and its connections to climate change, as well as important insights on present-day dune field dynamics.

Publications from this research program:

Xu, Z., Mason, J.A., Xu, C., Yi, S., Bathiany, S., Yizhaq, H., Zhou, Y., Holmgren, M., Lu, H., 2020. Critical transitions in Chinese dunes during the past twelve thousand years. Science Advances 6:eaay8020. R code used for this paper

Xu, Z., Hu, R., Wang, K., Mason, J.A., Wu, S.-Y., Lu, H., 2018. Recent greening in the Mu Us dune field, northern China, and factors influencing it. Land Degradation and Development 29:1509-1520.

Xu, Z., Mason, J.A., Lu, H., Yi, S., Zhou, Y., Wu, J., Han, Z., 2017. Crescentic dune migration and stabilization: Implications for interpreting paleo-dune deposits as paleoenvironmental records. Journal of Geographical Sciences 27:1341-1358.

Sweeney, M.R., Lu, H., Cui, M., Mason, J.A., Feng, H., Xu, Z. 2016. Sand dunes as potential sources of dust in northern China. Science China Earth Sciences 59:760-769.

Xu, Z., Lu, H., Yi, S., Vandenberghe, J., Mason, J.A., Zhou, Y., and Wang, X. 2015. Climate-driven changes to dune activity during the Last Glacial Maximum and deglaciation in the Mu Us dune field, north-central China. Earth and Planetary Science Letters 427:149-159.

Xu, Z., Mason, J.A., and Lu. H. 2015. Vegetated dune morphodynamics during recent stabilization of the Mu Us dune field, north-central China. Geomorphology 228: 486-503.

Lu, H., Zhou, Y., Liu, W., Mason, J.A. 2012. Organic stable carbon isotopic composition reveals late Quaternary vegetation changes in the dune fields of northern China. Quaternary Research 77: 433-444.

Lu, H., Mason, J.A., Stevens, T, Zhou, Y., Yi, S., and Miao, X. 2011. Response of surface processes to climatic change in the dunefields and Loess Plateau of North China during the Late Quaternary. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms 36: 1590-1603.

Mason, J.A., Lu, H.Y., Zhou, Y.L. Miao, X.D., Swinehart, J.B., Liu, Z., Goble, R.J., and Yi, S. 2009. Dune mobility and aridity at the desert margin of northern China at a time of peak monsoon strength. Geology 37:947-950.

Zhou, Y., Lu, H., Zhang, J., Mason, J.A., Zhou, L.P. 2009. Luminescence dating of sand-loess sequences and response of Mu Us and Otindag sand fields (North China) to climatic changes. Journal of Quaternary Science 24: 336-344.

Mason, J.A., Swinehart, J.B., Lu, H.Y., Miao, X.D., Cha, P., Zhou, Y.L. 2008. Limited change in dune mobility in response to a large change in wind power in semi-arid northern China since the 1970s. Geomorphology 102: 351-363.

Lu, H.Y., Miao, X.D., Zhou, Y.L., Mason, J.A., Swinehart, J., Zhang, J.F., Zhou, L.P., Yi, S.W. 2005. Late Quaternary aeolian activity in the Mu Us and Otindag dunefields (north China) and lagged response to insolation forcing. Geophysical Research Letters 32: L21716, doi:10.1029/2005GL024560.