AskDefine | Define loess

Dictionary Definition

loess n : a fine-grained unstratified accumulation of clay and silt deposited by the wind

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. any sediment, dominated by silt, of eolian (wind-blown) origin


Extensive Definition

This article is about the geologic material. For the statistical technique see Local regression.
Among the classifications of soil types, loess is a fine, silty, pale yellow or buff in color, windblown (eolian) type of unconsolidated deposit. The term sometimes also refers to soils derived from such deposits. The word comes from the German Löss or Löß, and ultimately from Swiss German lösch (loose). It is pronounced in several different ways in English ().
Loess is derived from glacial deposits, where glacial activity has ground rocks very fine (rock flour). After drying, these deposits are highly susceptible to wind erosion, and downwind deposits may become very deep — a hundred metres or more in areas of China and the midwestern United States. Loess deposits are geologically unstable by nature, and will erode very readily. Even well-managed loess farmland can experience dramatic erosion of well over 25 tonnes per hectare per year.
Loess tends to develop into highly rich soils. Therefore under appropriate climatic conditions these areas are among the most agriculturally productive in the world.
Hungary has several areas that are covered by loess. At locations such as Dunaújváros and Balatonakarattya, loess walls are exposed as "reefs" (see illustration). Similar formations exist in Bulgaria on the south bank of the Danube.
The central part of Belgium is also covered by thick loess stacks. An interesting loess site where late Middle and Late Pleistocene Neanderthal artifacts were found within the soils between the loess layers is Veldwezelt-Hezerwater.
Loess grains are angular, with little polishing or rounding, composed of crystals of quartz, feldspar, mica and other minerals. Because the grains are angular, loess will often stand in banks for many years without slumping. This soil has a characteristic called "vertical cleavage", which makes it easily excavated to form cave dwellings; this is still a popular method of making human habitations in some parts of China.
But it is also highly erodible by water or wind, and soils underlain by loess tend to be excessively drained (droughty). As the grains weather, they release minerals, which means that soils derived from loess are usually very rich. One theory states that the fertility of loess soils is due largely to electron exchange capacity (EEC) and pore space (the ability of plants to absorb nutrients from the soil, and the air-filled space in the soil, respectively). Unlike other soil, loess's fertility is not due to organic matter content, which actually tends to be rather low (unlike tropical soils, which depend almost wholly on organic matter for their fertility). In the Loess Hills of Iowa, the fertility of the region is owed to the prairie topsoils built by 10,000 years of post-glacial accumulation of organic-rich humus as a consequence of a persistent grassland biome. When the valuable A-horizon topsoil is eroded or degraded, the underlying loess soil is infertile, and requires the addition of fertilizers in order to support agriculture. In general, the fertility of farmland in the Loess Hills of Iowa is lower than in the adjacent alluvial floodplain of the Missouri River.
Though in geological time loess has an incredible rate of erosion, in a more human time scale loess is very durable and resistant to maltreatment. In China, for instance, loess deposits along the Yellow River have been farmed and have produced phenomenal yields for over a thousand years; though a large amount of the credit for this goes to the farmers themselves, as Chinese farmers were the first to practice active erosion control, which also started about one thousand years ago. The largest deposit of loess in the United States, the Loess Hills along the border of Iowa and Nebraska, has also survived under intensive farming and, in this case, poor farming practices. For almost 150 years this loess deposit was farmed with Mouldboard Ploughs and fall tilled (both practices are intensely erosive); at times it suffered erosion rates of over 100 tonnes per hectare per year. However, today this loess deposit is worked as low till, or no till, in all areas and is aggressively terraced.
Loess soil forms sharp topographic hills east of the Mississippi River and Yazoo River in western Mississippi north and south of Vicksburg. These deposits are in excess of 100 feet (30 m) thick (comparable to those in Iowa) immediately above the river valleys, to which they are sub-parallel, and thin to trace thickness within 25 miles (40 km) east. Streams and gulleys are incised very deeply and sharply between the linear loess ridges making topography very important in the conduct of military operations for the Vicksburg Campaign. The loess soil near Vicksburg is apparently contemporaneous with the last phases of the last glaciation in the midwest, sometimes called the Altamont and Bemis stages of the Wisconsin glaciation in Iowa. Older loess deposits have not been identified in the Vicksburg area. Faunal remains include terrestrial gastropods and mastodons.


3. The Atlas of Loess Landslide Caused By Earthquake In Ningxia, Lixia,Yuan, 60 pages, 2006

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loess in Belarusian: Лёс
loess in Catalan: Loess
loess in Czech: Spraš
loess in Danish: Löss
loess in German: Löss
loess in Spanish: Loess
loess in Esperanto: Leŭso
loess in Persian: بادرفت
loess in French: Lœss
loess in Hindi: लोयस
loess in Italian: Löss
loess in Lithuanian: Liosas
loess in Limburgan: Löss
loess in Hungarian: Lösz
loess in Dutch: Löss
loess in Japanese: 黄土
loess in Norwegian: Løss
loess in Polish: Less
loess in Portuguese: Loess
loess in Romanian: Loess
loess in Russian: Лёсс
loess in Finnish: Lössi
loess in Swedish: Lössjord
loess in Chinese: 黃土

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