Loess landscapes of Europe – Mapping, geomorphology, and zonal differentiation


Paleoenvironmental reconstructions on a (supra-)regional scale have gained attention in Quaternary sciences during the last decades. In terrestrial realms, loess deposits and especially intercalations of loess and buried soils, so called loess-paleosol sequences (LPS) are important archives to unravel the terrestrial response to e.g. climatic fluctuations and reconstruct paleoenvironments during the Pleistocene. The analysis of LPS requires the knowledge of several key factors, such as the distribution of the aeolian sediments, their location relative to (potential) source areas, the climate conditions that led to their emplacement and the topography of the sink area. These factors strongly influence the sedimentological and paleoenvironmental characteristics of LPS and show broad variations throughout Europe, leading to a distinct distribution pattern throughout the continent.

We present a new map of the distribution of aeolian sediments (mainly loess) and major potential source areas for Europe. The map was compiled combining geodata of different mapping approaches. Most of the used geodata stems from accurate national maps of 27 different countries. Problematic aspects such as different nomenclatures across administrative borders were carefully investigated and revised. The result is a seamless map, which comprises pedological, geological, and geomorphological data and can be used for paleoenvironmental and archeological studies and other applications.

We use the resulting map and data from key geomorphological cross-sections to discuss the various influences of geomorphology and paleoenvironment on the deposition and preservation of Late Pleistocene loess throughout Europe. We divided the loess areas into 6 main loess domains and 17 subdomains, to understand and explain the factors controlling their distribution and characteristics. For the subdivision we used the following criteria: (1) influence of silt production areas, (2) affiliation to subcatchments, as rivers are very important regional silt transport agents, (3) occurrence of past periglacial activity with characteristic overprinting of the deposits. Additionally, the sediment distribution is combined with elevation data, to investigate the loess distribution statistically as well as visually.

Throughout Europe, the variations, and differences of the loess domains are the results of a complex interplay of changing paleoenvironmental conditions and related geomorphologic processes, controlling dust sources, transport, accumulation, preservation, pedogenesis, alongside erosional and reworking events. Climatic, paleoclimatic, and pedoclimatic gradients are on the continental scale an additional important factor, since there are e.g. latitudinal differences of permafrost and periglacial processes, an increase in continentality from west to east and in aridity from northwest to southeast and south, strongly affecting regional sedimentary and geomorphic dynamics.

We propose three main depositional regimes for loess formation in Europe: (1.) periglacial and tundra loess formation with periglacial processes and permafrost in the high latitude and mountainous regions; (2.) steppe and desert margin loess formation in the (semi-)arid regions; and (3.) loess and soil formation in temperate and subtropical regions. Loess deposits of (1.) and (2.) show coarser, sandier particle distributions towards the glacial and desert regions. In the humid areas (3.) forest vegetation limited dust production and accumulation, therefore, there is an increase in finer grain sizes due to an increase in weathering.


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Lehmkuhl, F., Nett, J., Pötter, S., Schulte, P., Sprafke, T., Jary, Z., Antoine, P., Wacha, L., Wolf, D., Zerboni, A., Hosek, J., Markovic, S., Obreht, I., Sümegi, P., Veres, D., Zeeden, C., Boemke, B., Schaubert, V., Viehweger, J., Hambach, U. (2020): Loess landscapes of Europe – Mapping, geomorphology, and zonal differentiation. – In: Earth-Science Reviews, DOI: 10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103496

Authors Lehmkuhl, Frank and Nett, Janina. J. and Pötter, Stephan and Schulte, Philipp and Sprafke, Tobias and Jary, Zdislaw and Antoine, Pierre and Wacha, Lara and Wolf, Daniel and Zerboni, Andrea and Hosek, Johan and Markovic, Slobodan B. and Obreht, Igor and Sümegi, Pál and Veres, Daniel and Zeeden, Christian and Boemke, Bruno and Schaubert, Viktor and Viehweger, Jens and Hambach, Ulrich
Type article
Title Loess landscapes of Europe – Mapping, geomorphology, and zonal differentiation
DOI 10.1016/j.earscirev.2020.103496
Journal Earth-Science Reviews
Year 2020
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