The Salawusu River Valley cuts through the Mu Us Desert in north central China, and lies at the interface of the East Asian Summer and Winter Monsoonal regions. Exposed at numerous locations in the valley side are extensive late Quaternary deposits, consisting of interbedded aeolian sands, fluvio-lacustrine units and palaeosols. Due to the importance of the location in potentially elucidating both summer and winter monsoonal regimes, and the quality of the sedimentary record, the region has a rich history of study, and yet even within the Holocene sequence, many conflicting interpretations have arisen based on studies on different sections. This paper aims to synthesize and explore these differences by exploring the lateral continuity of the Holocene sequences along a ~ 45 km reach of the valley, and presenting new, detailed physical and geochemical analyses of three sections, focusing on the lacustrine Holocene Dagouwan Formation. The absence of the lacustrine unit at several locations confirms that rather than representing a single lake, the Dagouwan Formation instead represents a series of palaeolakes, probably at least partially hydrologically isolated from each other by aeolian sands. All begin with sand-dominated deposits during the early−/mid-Holocene, which is interpreted as the result of abundant sand-supply to the north and west, under the influence of an enhanced East Asian Winter Monsoon, and all switch to silt-dominated, more carbonate-rich deposits during the mid−/late-Holocene, which is attributed to an enhanced East Asian Summer Monsoon bringing loessic silts from the Chinese Loess Plateau to the east and south. The timing of this change, perhaps as late as 5.5 ka, supports the idea of a relatively enhancement late mid-Holocene of the summer monsoonal circulation in the region. However, despite the proximity of the sections and consistent analytical approaches, marked differences between the sections occur in all proxies studied. The timing and rate of the switch from sand- to silt-dominated lacustrine deposition varies between the sites by as much as 2000 years within just a few kilometres of each other, and at some sites the switch was gradual, whereas at others it was very rapid. Similar dramatic variations are also seen with organic carbon content, carbonate content, C:N ratio, and especially the δ13C isotopic ratio. These point to the lake basins behaving very differently, and emphasize that consideration must be given to the local geomorphology and palaeolimnological evolution of individual sections.



Publication Date


Publication Title

Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology





Embargo Period


Organisational Unit

School of Geography, Earth and Environmental Sciences