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Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 279 (2009) 160171

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Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology

j o u r n a l h o m e p a g e : w w w. e l s ev i e r. c o m / l o c a t e / p a l a e o

Holocene environmental changes in the Ugii Nuur basin, Mongolia

W. Schwanghart a,, M. Frechen b, N.J. Kuhn a, B. Schtt c
a b c

Department of Environmental Sciences, Institute of Geography, University of Basel, Klingelbergstrasse 27, CH-4056 Basel, Switzerland Leibniz Institute for Applied Geosciences, Stilleweg 2, Section S3, Geochronology and Isotope Hydrology, D-30655 Hannover, Germany Department of Earth Sciences, Geographic Institute, Freie Universitt Berlin, Malteserstrasse 74-100, D-12249 Berlin, Germany

a r t i c l e

i n f o

a b s t r a c t
In this study we investigate the Holocene environmental evolution of the Ugii Nuur basin in the Orkhon Valley, central Mongolia, in order to gain a better understanding of the climate and landscape dynamics of the steppe region in Central Asia. We assess terrestrial and lake sediments using mineralogical, geochemical and statistical techniques and provide absolute chronologies by radiocarbon datings and infra-red stimulated luminescence datings including fading correction. Our ndings and their discussion in a broader regional context show that there is a Mid Holocene climate optimum. The shift towards warmer and wetter conditions involved changes from Aeolian dynamics of sand mobilization to loess-like sediment accumulation owing to the establishment of dust-trapping vegetation. Between 4 and 2.8 ka BP we track a decline in moisture supply which is then followed by relatively humid conditions until today. We infer that the region is sensitive to changes of the westerlies dynamics. In addition, we conclude that the Late Holocene was characterized by favorable climatic conditions that probably were an important prerequisite for the repetitive colonization of the Orkhon Valley throughout the last 3000 years. 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Article history: Received 9 February 2009 Received in revised form 30 April 2009 Accepted 10 May 2009 Keywords: Central Asia Loess Lake sediments Geoarchaeology Principal component analysis

1. Introduction Information on Holocene environmental evolution is scarce in Mongolia. At its southern border, numerous investigations on lake sediments (Wnnemann and Hartmann, 2002; Xiao et al., 2004; Wnnemann et al., 2006; Hartmann and Wnnemann, 2009), speleothems (Dykoski et al., 2005; Wang et al., 2008) and loess proles (Porter, 2001; Roberts et al., 2001; Rost, 2001; Xiao et al., 2002; An et al., 2005; Maher, 2008) provide spatially distributed information on landscape and climate evolution in the northern part of the People's Republic of China. Along the northern border various lake basins have been studied, most prominently Lake Baikal and Lake Hovsgol (e.g. Demske et al., 2002; Fedotov et al., 2004; Poberezhnaya et al., 2006; Hvsgl Drilling Project Group, 2007; Prokopenko et al., 2007), Uvs Nuur (Grunert et al., 2000) and various smaller basins (e.g. Gunin et al., 1999; Tarasov et al., 2000; Peck et al., 2002; Fowell et al., 2003) providing insight into the evolution of the continental, boreal region. The vast steppe area in between these two regions, however, is only poorly explored (see overview in Harrison et al., 1996; Herzschuh, 2006). Knowledge on the environmental history of this extremely continental area is required to understand its sensitivity to current global climate change. Northern Mongolia has been warming twice as fast as the global average during the last 40 years and experiences a decline in permafrost (Nandintsetseg et al., 2007; Bohannon, 2008),
Corresponding author. Tel.: +41 61 26 70737; fax: +41 61 26 73645. E-mail address: (W. Schwanghart). 0031-0182/$ see front matter 2009 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2009.05.007

and projections indicate a more arid climate in the future (Sato et al., 2007). The manner of how ecosystems react to these changes affects vital functions of the Mongolian society. Hence, investigating the Holocene climatic and environmental evolution contributes to an understanding of ecosystem sensitivity not only because the past few millennia are the natural baseline from which to differentiate current climate change, but also because Holocene evolution is linked to human cultural evolution (Cronin, 1999). In this study we investigate the Holocene evolution of the Ugii Nuur basin located in the steppe region of Mongolia using lacustrine and terrestrial sedimentary archives. The study site gains relevance not only due to its situation in a poorly investigated region of Mongolia. It is located in the sphere of inuence of the westerlies whose role in the climatic evolution of Central Asia is highly disputed (Chen et al., 2008). Moreover, it is part of the Orkhon Valley that hosts various archaeological sites that document an human inuence for the last 3000 years with a climax in the 1314th century (c.) AD when Dschingis Khan chose the Orkhon Valley as location for his capital Karakorum (Qara Qorum) (Bemmann et al., in press). A pollen prole of one of the sediment cores presented in this study has been investigated by Rsch et al. (2005). Yet, climate and environmental reconstructions based on pollen samples only are less reliable for arid and semi-arid regions owing to the inuence of longdistant transport and the often unknown degree of human inuence on vegetation densities and assemblages (Tarasov et al., 2007c,b). Hence we complemented this work by an extensive geochemical and mineralogical approach of lake and terrestrial sediments and provide new records and dates obtained from the infra-red stimulated

W. Schwanghart et al. / Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 279 (2009) 160171


luminescence (IRSL) technique including fading correction. We place emphasis on an interpretation and synthesis of the results and discuss their signicance in a spatially broader context.

2. Study site The Ugii Nuur basin is located in central Mongolia (4744N and 10246E, Fig. 1) and comprises elevations between 1328 and 1600 m. Ugii Nuur is a lake with a surface area of approx. 26 km2 and a maximum depth of 16 m. It is fed by the Old Orkhon River (Chgschin Orkhon Gol) and is ephemerally drained by a ca. 8 km long water course connected to the Orkhon River (Orkhon Gol) (Fig. 2). During two eld trips in 2005 and 2006 surface runoff along this outlet was absent. Climate is characterized by extreme continentality. Ugii Nuur Sum, located about 10 km southwest to Lake Ugii Nuur, shows an annual mean temperature around zero and an annual precipitation of around 250 mm. The continentality causes a strong seasonality. Mean January air temperatures of 21.5 C contrast July air temperatures of 17.0 C. Precipitation in winter (November to March) mostly occurs in solid form and rarely exceeds 10 mm/month, while rainfall in summer is predominantly linked to convective cells associated with warming of the continental interior (Harrison et al., 1996), cyclonic disturbances of the westerlies (Weischet and Endlicher, 2000) and intense diurnal

mountain wind systems (Bhner, 2006). In general, rainfall events in summer are short, intense and accompanied by high wind velocities. Bedrock in the study area consists of strongly tilted Carboniferous shists and shales that outcrop on ridges and steep slopes (Fig. 3). Along the lake shore of Ugii Nuur reddish conglomerates are exposed that can be attributed to the Late Cretacious and Tertiary and testify uvial dynamics with high bedload transport generating pebble beds and channel bar sandstones (Traynor and Sladen, 1995). The origin of the topographic depression is unclear but may be linked to Miocene volcanism nearby Ugii Nuur (Kovalenko et al., 1997) or to an eastwest left-lateral strikeslip fault (Walker et al., 2008). The shallow subsurface is dominated by vast fanglomerates accumulated during the Pleistocene (Richter et al., 1963; Grunert et al., 2000; Schwanghart and Schtt, 2008). The debris layers are poorly sorted and comprise grain sizes ranging from silt to blocky debris. Where alluvial sedimentation prevailed, bands with pebble clusters occur, separated by soil sediments or nes. In at or slightly inclined areas layering may also be attributed to frost heaving processes. Soils developed on periglacial debris are dominated by Kastanozems. On steep slopes these steppe soils are poorly developed, frequently only a few decimeters thick and classied as Regosols or Leptosols. The study site is situated within the area of dry, grass steppes (Hilbig, 1995; Opp and Hilbig, 2003) and is dominated by grasses (Cleistogenes, Stipa), forbs (Allium), and shrubs (Artemisia, Caragana) while trees are generally lacking (Fig. 3). Present day

Fig. 1. Map of central Asia and location of the study site. Vegetation data is derived from the Global Land Cover Characteristics data base (Running et al., 1995). Elevation data (isolines with equidistance of 500 m) is based on GTOPO30 data.


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Fig. 2. Map of the study site indicating locations of proles described in the text.

human activities are largely restricted to herding. The large quantities of lifestock that have been established since the fall of the soviet regime result in large-scale land degradation. 3. Methods Our study aims at deriving local and regional paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental information from lacustrine and terrestrial sedimentary archives of the Ugii Nuur basin. Since the acquired data

reects in situ conditions and/or source area characteristics of material uxes, a regional synthesis of our results is gained by a comparison with existing paleoenvironmental datasets of the region. 3.1. Sediment analysis We report the ndings from two lake sediment cores: UGI-4 and UGI-G3. UGI-4 was excavated at the deepest location of Ugii Nuur in 2003 (Fig. 2) with a Usinger piston corer (Walther, 2005). The core has

Fig. 3. Picture of the Ugii Nuur basin taken in southeast direction. Photo: W. Schwanghart, Aug. 2005.

W. Schwanghart et al. / Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 279 (2009) 160171 Table 1 List of radiocarbon 14C dates reported in this study. Sample number POZ-16767 POZ-16847 POZ-16768 POZ-15083 POZ-15084 POZ-15085 Milieu Core/ prole name UGI-4 UGI-4 UGI-4 UGITP-01 UGITP-01 UGITP-01 Depth (cm) 210 510 580 50 148 198 Uncal. 14C age 1 (y) 3535 30 7770 50 9210 50 4010 35 8500 50 9670 50 Cal. age 1 (y BP) 3809 57 8538 55 10382 84 4482 37 9506 24 11031 136


Lacustrine Lacustrine Lacustrine Terrestrial Terrestrial Terrestrial

a length of 630 cm and was sampled with an interval of 10 cm and a resolution of 2 cm. A gravitational corer was used to retrieve UGI-G3, a 2 m long core with a sample interval of 5 cm and a 2 cm resolution. In addition, we document two terrestrial proles (UGITP-01, UGITP-08) located in relatively at terrain to exclude a strong inuence of lateral water and material uxes (Fig. 2). Prior to chemical and mineralogical analysis the samples were dried, screened on components larger 2 mm and homogenized in an agate disk swing mill (Lieb-Technik). We used a conductrometric carbon analyzer (Westhoff, detection limit = 0.02 mass% C) to determine the total (TC) and inorganic carbon (TIC) content. Total organic carbon (TOC) content was calculated as the difference of both values. Mineralogical compounds were analyzed by X-ray powder diffraction (XRD) using a copper k-tube (PW1729/40, Phillips) from 2 = 252 and a step width of 2 = 0.01 with each step measured for 1 min. Contents of mineral components were analyzed semiquantitatively (vol%) using the software package Phillips X'Pert Highscore v. 1.0b (PW3209). After preparing samples using aqua regia and microwave digestion, we analyzed the element composition (Ca, Cr, Cu, Fe, K, Mg, Mn, Na, Ni, Pb, PO4, S, Sr) by inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectroscopy (ICP-AES, Optima 3000, Perkin Elmer). TC, H and N were analyzed using a LECO CHN 1000 (detection limit = 0.01 mass-%). Grain size distributions analyzed for one terrestrial prole were derived from pipette and sieve analysis. 3.2. Statistical analysis The sequence of element compositions of UGI-4 was statistically analyzed with a principal component (PC) analysis (PCA) based on the correlation matrix. Prior to the analysis the data was transformed using centered log-ratios to account for the constant sum constraint (Aitchison, 1986; Kucera and Malmgren, 1998). Subsequently all variables were z-transformed. Since standardization tends to inate the inuence variables whose variance is small, we excluded H, Na and PO4 from the PCA owing to their low concentrations and thus low signalto-noise ratio (Davis, 1986). A VARIMAX rotation of the principal components (PC) was chosen to enhance the interpretability of the PCs. 3.3. Radiocarbon and luminescence datings Absolute chronologies were obtained from radiocarbon (14C) and fading corrected IRSL datings (Tables 1, 2). 14C ages were determined from bulk organic matter in lacustrine sediments and conjointly on
Table 2 List of fading corrected IRSL ages of the section UGITP-08. Sample number 1575 1576 1577 1578 1579 1580 Depth (cm) 1015 3640 6064 130135 145150 160165 Doserate (Gy/ka) 3.74 1.19 3.60 0.31 3.77 0.30 3.37 0.42 3.53 0.32 3.59 0.52 DE (Gy) 0.55 0.12 4.67 0.07 7.66 0.22 31.85 2.37 31.10 1.34 48.80 4.36

humins and humic acids for terrestrial samples in the Poznan Radiocarbon Laboratory. Despite the relatively few dates on the lacustrine core we assume that the chronology is valid due to absence of e.g. event layers that may indicate strong ruptures of sedimentation rates. 14C ages were calibrated with CalPal Online (Danzeglocke et al., 2008) using the calibration curve CalPal2007 HULU (Weninger and Jris, 2008). Ages between dated samples were obtained by linear interpolation. In the following text, radiocarbon ages are provided as calibrated years unless otherwise noted. Aeolian sediments like loess and dune sands are particularly suitable for the application of luminescence dating techniques to determine the deposition age of the sediments (Frechen and Dodonov, 1998; Frechen, 1999). Luminescence is the light emitted from crystals such as quartz, feldspar or zircon when they are stimulated with heat or light after receiving a natural or articial radiation dose. The equivalent dose is a measure of the past radiation energy absorbed and, in combination with the dose rate, yields the time elapsed since the last exposure to sunlight. An important assumption of luminescence dating techniques is that the mineral grains were exposed to sunlight sufciently long enough prior to deposition to reset their luminescence signal. Eight loess samples were taken in light-tight tubes about 250 g each in the eld. Furthermore, about 1 kg of sediment was sampled for gammaspectrometry to determine the amount of radioactivity in the sediment. Natural ionising radiation includes alpha, beta and gamma irradiation released by the radioactive decay of the unstable isotopes of the 238U, 235 U and 232Th decay chains, 40K and to a minor content 87Rb, 14C and cosmic radiation. The dose rate depends on a number of external factors, some of them are even variable during burial time, like moisture, sediment thickness, grain-size, geochemical weathering of minerals or salts, mobilisation of clay minerals and radioactive equilibria/disequilibria of the decay chains and internal factors like the amount of 40K in potassium-rich feldspars. Polymineral ne-grained material (411 m) was prepared for the measurements, as described by Frechen et al. (1996). The Single Aliquot regenerative Protocol (SAR) was applied to determine equivalent dose values (Wallinga et al., 2000). The IRSL ages were fading-corrected following Huntley and Lamothe (2001). A Schott BG39/Corning 759 lter combination was placed between photomultiplier and aliquots for the measurements. Alpha efciency was estimated to 0.08 0.02 for all samples. Dose rates for all samples were calculated from potassium, uranium and thorium contents, as measured by gamma spectrometry in the laboratory, assuming radioactive equilibrium for the decay chains. Cosmic dose rate was corrected for the altitude and sediment thickness, as described by Aitken (1998) and Prescott and Hutton (1994). The natural water content of the sediment was estimated to 7.5 2.5%. 4. Results and interpretation 4.1. Lacustrine archives 4.1.1. Geochemical and mineralogical analysis 14 C dates on UGI-4 age the onset of lake sedimentation to the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary (see Table 1). Above a sandy base the

Uncorrected age (ka) 0.15 0.03 1.30 0.11 2.03 0.15 9.44 0.95 8.81 0.72 13.60 1.54

g2 days-value (% /decade) 2.90 0.29 2.90 0.29 2.90 0.29 2.90 0.29 2.90 0.29 2.90 0.29

Fading corrected age (ka) 0.17 0.07 1.59 0.21 2.51 0.33 11.95 2.11 11.12 1.59 17.27 3.40


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sediments are dominated by silt and clay indicating continuous lacustrine sedimentation with alternating phases of carbonate precipitation and organic carbon accumulation in the sediment. Based on the lithology and geochemical parameters UGI-G3 can be correlated with section 1 of UGI-4 (Fig. 4). The mineral composition of UGI-4 is dominated by quartz and feldspars (Fig. 4). Along with clay minerals, mica and hornblende the allogenic mineral fraction outweighs the authigenic fraction which mainly consists of calcite, monohydrocalcite (MHC), pyrite and gypsum. Authigenic minerals frequently occur in the lower part of the prole (Section 213) while gypsum was found in the upper part (Section 1) only with very low concentrations ( 1 vol.%). Calcite varies between 0 and 30 vol.%, pyrite and gypsum range between 0 and 4 vol.%, respectively. MHC was detected with high concentrations in 160 cm depth (21 vol.%) and in 310 cm depth (3 vol.%). The hydrous form of calcium carbonate has often been interpreted to reect very cold lake water conditions (Lippmann, 1973). Yet, as discussed in Schwanghart et al. (2008) this mineral may also be biogenic in origin. Corresponding to the presence of calcite, TIC varies from 13 mass% (824% CaCO3) (Section 2, 9, 11). TOC concentrations are relatively high throughout the core (median = 2.6 mass%). Variations of TOC and related variables may be affected by diagenetic processes that alter the organic matter composition (Talbot and Johannessen, 1992). Yet, we argue that at least signicant diagenesis of the organic matter can be

excluded since evidences for a downcore selective loss of TOC or N are missing (Salzmann and Hoelzmann, 2005). Minor uctuations of CTOC:NTN (C:N) atomic weight ratios are recorded in the core. The dominance of values below 12 suggests that sediment organic matter is predominantly algal in origin (Meyers and Lallier-Verges, 1999). Two major peaks with ratios up to 25 during the Early Holocene indicate a contribution of terrestrial, vascular plant material to the lake bottom. Yet, these maxima likely reect singular events but do not provide evidence for prolonged phases of terrestrial plant accumulation in the sediment and macrofossil evidence that support this interpretation are lacking. The upper part of the core (Section 1) is characterized by minor uctuations for all parameters. The uniformity of this section is conrmed by the higher sampling frequency of UGI-G3. The top of the prole UGI-G3 captures an increase in TOC at the sediment/water interface. 4.1.2. Statistical analysis The PCA extracts three PCs with Eigenvalues greater than 1 (Kaiser-Criterion). The communalities of each variable retained in the PCs are higher than 90% for most variables, but totals only 6381% for S, TOC, TIC and N (Table 3). Ten out of 14 variables are basically explained by PC1. Mg, K and all metals except Mn are positively related to PC1 while TIC, Ca, S and Sr have negative loadings (Fig. 5, Table 3).

Fig. 4. Lithology and geochemical and mineralogical sediment composition of UGI-4 and UGI-G3.

W. Schwanghart et al. / Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 279 (2009) 160171 Table 3 Factor loadings and communalities of centered log ratio transformed variables after Varimax rotation. Loadings N 0.7 and b 0.7 are highlighted bold. Element Mg Cr Fe Pb Ni K Cu TIC Ca Sr S Mn TOC N Factor loading PC 1 0.980 0.979 0.972 0.964 0.945 0.943 0.833 0.885 0.868 0.791 0.767 0.291 0.060 0.124 PC 2 0.019 0.179 0.190 0.214 0.258 0.177 0.474 0.246 0.420 0.520 0.469 0.841 0.146 0.334 PC 2 0.075 0.005 0.019 0.036 0.063 0.135 0.120 0.229 0.151 0.155 0.045 0.054 0.842 0.711 0.97 0.99 0.98 0.98 0.96 0.94 0.93 0.90 0.95 0.92 0.81 0.79 0.73 0.63 Communality


While former elements reect the allogenic mineral fraction, latter form the authigenic mineral assemblage in the sediment. It is important to note, that the concurrent mapping of these two material fractions on one PC reects an archive entailed concurrence and not a concurrence of processes. It may partly be explained by a rather coarse sampling resolution that is unable to resolve rapid changes in the hydrological regime responses of the relatively small lake. The environmental meaning of the PCs is discussed in detail in Schwanghart et al. (2008). They conclude that PC1 can serve as a proxy for lake level variability since carbonate precipitation is heavily inuenced by activation or deactivation of the lake outlet. During closed basin conditions evaporation from the water surface is the main driver to maintain the water balance of the lake, leading to an enrichment of dissolved carbonate concentrations in the lake water. In combination with a decline of thermal stratication and generally higher water temperatures during summer, carbonate precipitation rates are increased during these periods. Open basin conditions involve a constant renewal and exchange of the lake water. During such periods intense carbonate precipitation can be excluded and deposition of the allogenic mineral fraction prevails. Despite the metric scale of PC1 the derived lake level curve (Fig. 6) cannot be

translated to precise water surface elevations but remain a qualitative estimate. We are aware, that this simplied interpretation of the complex dynamics of lake sediment formation disregards sediment uxes that may be triggered by the exposition of the riparian lake zone or the sheer fact that sediment characteristics change as the litoral zone approaches the borehole location during low lake levels. Moreover, the meandering nature of the Old Orkhon and the Orkhon River and associated sediment dynamics in the delta area may have caused a bypass of the inlet to the lake. At the current state of our knowledge we cannot exclude uviodynamic effects of the inlet on the lake level and, hence, paleoclimatic interpretations are limited. Since the lake level proxy agrees well with other ndings in the area, it is assumed that these dynamics either did not affect the lake level, or had a short duration not resolved in our record. The behavior of Mn and its relation to Fe is reected by PC2. Schwanghart et al. (2008) conclude that Mn is both related to the lithogenic sediment fraction and soil derived, dissolved Mn by groundwater supply. During low lake level phases surface runoff contribution and delivery of eroded material was largely replaced by groundwater discharge enriched in dissolved Mn due to its higher mobility in soils (Schlichting and Schweikle, 1980; Scheffer, 2002). Due to the large uncertainty associated with the reication of PC2 we omit its use in the paleoenvironmental interpretation. TOC and N are associated with PC3. TOC as proxy for paleoclimatic interpretations can be misleading owing to the variety of sources and processes generating organic matter in lakes (Hartmann and Wnnemann, 2009). Since we can infer from C:N ratios that variability of organic matter is predominantly linked to aquatic organisms we interpret PC3 to reect biologic lake productivity. 4.2. Terrestrial archives Landforms in steep terrain in the study area are ridges and convex to straight slopes characterized by outcrops and relatively thin covers of blocky debris. An often sharp, concave knick in the lower slope section passes into a moderately inclined accumulation section of interngering fans and colluvial material. Texture is spatially highly variable, characterized by partly layered debris that is embedded in a texture of sands and silts (Schwanghart and Schtt, 2008). These

Fig. 5. Biplots of the PC loadings (vectors) and PC scores (dots). Note that the biplots follow the convention, forcing the element with largest magnitude in each column of the loadings matrix to be positive.


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Fig. 6. Factor scores and mineral occurrences of UGI-4.

archives are generated by a combination of geomorphological processes of rock fall, concentrated runoff or sheet wash that produce cut-ll sedimentary patterns associated with single rainfall events. Indications of cryoturbation show that denudational processes such as soil creep and upheaval play a major role in the genesis of these proles. Terrestrial proles in the at to gently undulating terrain of the southern part of the study area are spatially less variable. In general, these terrestrial archives show a predominance of the silt fraction in the upper part of the proles overlying ne to coarse sands. A horizon with secondary carbonate formation in variable depth is common, visible by concretion and carbonate coatings on lower sides of gravel and pebbles (Klinge, 2001; Lal, 2004), characterized by elevated TIC concentrations (Figs. 7 and 8) and detected by mineralogical analysis (Schwanghart and Schtt, 2008). The terrestrial proles in UGITP-01 and UGITP-08 (Figs. 2, 7 and 8) are located on prole straight and planform straight to convex slopes with inclinations of 2. UGITP-01 is situated in the lower, southwest exposed slope section of a broad, saucer-shaped valley. UGITP-08 is a section partly exposed on a cliff-like scarp surrounding the backwater of Ugii Nuur (Fig. 2). A thicker silty section in UGITP01 than in UGITP-08 is probably owing to enhanced material contribution by sheetwash that is more intense due to the prole's topographic situation and a larger upslope contributing area (see Fig. 2). Nondeclining, but generally low TOC concentrations in the upper part of UGITP-01 support the interpretation that soil formation was accompanied by more efcient burial by lateral material uxes than in UGITP-08. The presence of partly rounded gravel in UGITP-08 (layer 6) suggests the accumulation of coarse material subject to uvial erosion or ground by relocation in the litoral zone of lake Ugii Nuur. Insufcient slope and upslope area for efcient uvial transport, low lateral variation and a lack of evidence for paleodrainage at this location suggest that litoral processes probably formed the gravel layer.

Both fading corrected IRSL ages and calibrated 14C ages provide Holocene chronologies of the terrestrial sediment sequences under study. The sand dominated sections can be attributed to the Late Pleistocene and Early Holocene while the silt dominated sections can be placed in the Mid to Early Holocene. The pebble-rich section in UGITP-08 suggests a high lake level stand between these two phases, leading to the accumulation and grinding of coarser clastics. The origin of the clastics is Tertiary fanglomerates outcropping along cliffs at the lake shore. The location of UGITP-08 along a cliff-like scarp at the backwater of Ugii Nuur suggests a backward retreat due to litoral erosion simultaneously to or following the silt accumulation phase. 5. Discussion and paleoclimatic and paleoenvironmental interpretation 5.1. Pre-Holocene evolution (N 10 ka) Lake reservoir lling by the end of the Pleistocene epoch is in good agreement with other lake systems in Central Asia (Herzschuh, 2006). Most lakes in NW China and Mongolia had low lake levels or were dried out during the last glacial maximum (LGM) (Wnnemann et al., 1998; Tarasov et al., 1999; Walther, 1999; Wnnemann and Hartmann, 2002; Walther et al., 2003; Grunert and Dasch, 2004; Karabanov et al., 2004; Yang et al., 2004; Hartmann and Wnnemann, 2009) owing to a largely weakened summer monsoon and moisture depleted westerlies (Kutzbach and Guetter, 1986; Foley et al., 1994; Bush, 2004; Tarasov et al., 2007c). Despite the rather general notion of a dry LGM, the re-establishment of moisture supply and associated lake phase beginnings were asynchronous in Central Asia. This may be due to the gradual establishment of the EA monsoon associated with the summer insolation maximum in the Late Glacial and Early Holocene (Sirocko et al., 1993; Harrison et al., 1996; Wang et al., 1999; Blyakharchuk et al., 2004; Herzschuh, 2006) and discharge connectivity to glaciated

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Fig. 7. Lithology, total inorganic (TIC) and organic carbon (TOC) of UGITP-01.

Fig. 8. Lithology, total inorganic (TIC) and organic carbon (TOC) of UGITP-08.


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regions (Walther, 1999). Different geological settings result in different rates of aquifer lling and provide an explanation for time lags between climate amelioration and lake evolution (Hartmann and Wnnemann, 2009). Since the Ugii Nuur catchment comprises parts of the Khangay mountains, glacier retreat in this area (Lehmkuhl and Lang, 2001; Lehmkuhl et al., 2004) probably contributed to discharge to the Ugii Nuur basin. Thick periglacial debris covers (Richter et al., 1963; Lehmkuhl and Lang, 2001; Schwanghart and Schtt, 2008) of the Orkhon Valley suggest that initial discharge served as recharge of riparian groundwater aquifers and may have delayed lake evolution. According to Lehmkuhl and Haselein (2000) and Lehmkuhl and Lang (2001) a phase of sand accumulation is followed by a loess phase at the end of the Pleistocene (ca. 15 ka). The terrestrial proles investigated here suggest that sand sheets and/or dunes were active until at least the Early Holocene, but also Mid Holocene. The sand originated from oodplains and was transported only over short distances while silt-sized particles were transported over long distances due to the lack of a vegetation cover acting as dust trap (Grunert and Lehmkuhl, 2004). 5.2. Early Holocene (ca. 108 ka) While the EA Monsoon dominated region of North Eastern China faced a moisture optimum during the Early Holocene (An et al., 2000), various records suggest a dryer climate in the westerlies-dominated region of Central Asia (Wnnemann et al., 2003; Xiao et al., 2004; Herzschuh, 2006; Chen et al., 2008; Hartmann and Wnnemann, 2009). A strong seasonal contrast induced by the positive summer insolation anomaly during this time resulted in convective heating on the Tibetan Plateau and lead to subsidence of air masses and a dryer climate northwest of the plateau (Broccoli and Manabe, 1992; Duan and Wu, 2005). In contrast, moisture availability in the Baikal watershed was higher during the Early Holocene and declined by 7.58 ka (Prokopenko et al., 2007). The warmer and more humid climate during this time resulted in afforestation of steppe landscapes (Naumann, 1999; Westover et al., 2006) and permafrost degradation (Tarasov et al., 2007a). A wetter Early Holocene in the boreal region of Central Asia is explained by the weakening of the Siberian winter anticyclone that gave way to Atlantic cyclone activity (Blyakharchuk et al., 2004). Moreover, subsidence of air masses in the Gobi region may also have contributed to a northward displacement and narrowing of the westerlies zone during summer. Since Ugii Nuur's lake phase started at 10 ka we can infer that moisture supply to the lake at least exceeded precedent supply. Allothigenic material input to the lake as indicated by PC1 reects mobility of surface material during the initial lake phase and ongoing sand mobility inferred from the terrestrial archives in the Ugii Nuur basin points to arid conditions. Similar conditions are found in other regions of Mongolia during the Early Holocene. Grunert et al. (2000) report dune dynamics from the Uvs Nuur basin and Kowalkowski (2001) identies a dry-warm phase with an increase of meadow steppe and steppe vegetation from 11 to 8.5 ka in the Altai Mountains. According to Gunin et al. (1999) steppe vegetation dominated at most sites in Mongolia and deserts occupied large depressions in western Mongolia from 11.5 to 8.9 ka. 5.3. Mid Holocene (ca. 84 ka) The Mid Holocene atmospheric conditions in Central Asia are characterized by a southeast retreat of the maximum EA Monsoon limit due to the weakening of the summer insolation. Particularly in east China, but also in north China there is evidence for a decline in moisture supply (An et al., 2000; Hartmann and Wnnemann, 2009). A trend towards dryer conditions is also found in the Hovsgol and Baikal region around 7 ka (Prokopenko et al., 2007). Peck et al. (2002)

and Fowell et al. (2003) infer a trend towards dryer conditions during the Mid Holocene for Lake Telmen. Westover et al. (2006) detect a decline of temperature and humidity by 6 ka in the Altai Mountains, and signicant afforestation cannot be recognized in most pollen proles (Gunin et al., 1999). Many lake systems in westerlies dominated north China and Mongolia show favorable moisture conditions during the Mid Holocene (Shi et al., 1993; Dorofeyuk and Tarasov, 1998; Tarasov et al., 2000; Zhang et al., 2000; Grunert and Dasch, 2004; Herzschuh et al., 2004; Yang et al., 2004; Feng et al., 2005; Xiao et al., 2006; Chen et al., 2008). Contradictory to the interpretations of An et al. (2000) some authors relate the wetter conditions to further Monsoon penetration. Our lake level proxy suggests that Ugii Nuur experienced higher lake levels during the Mid Holocene. This is supported by the presence of litoral material in UGITP-08 whose accumulation likely dates to the same period and Rsch et al. (2005) infer a trend towards more woodland. The proxy for biological lake productivity (PC3) also features the highest values during this time. In addition, we detect a change from sand dynamics towards loess deposition which has been shown to be an indicator for the transition from arid to semi-arid conditions (Yair and Bryan, 2000; Kster et al., 2006). Hence, we infer that the climate governing the evolution of the Ugii Nuur basin during the Mid Holocene was characterized by increased precipitation and temperature providing better conditions for the establishment of dust-trapping vegetation and supporting algal growth in the lake during the Mid Holocene. Due to the inconsistent or asynchronous climatic signals in the region the atmospheric circulation patterns during the Mid Holocene cannot be derived in a straight forward manner (Herzschuh, 2006). A gradual southward spreading of the westerlies zone can be assumed to be a reaction to the cooling of the Tibetan Plateau (Herzschuh et al., 2006). According to Chen et al. (2008) higher North Atlantic sea surface temperatures and high-altitude air temperatures intensied cyclonic activity and synoptic disturbances along the westerlies that result in higher convective precipitation rates in westerlies dominated Central Asia. If so, topographic barriers may have caused a tremendous effect on the spatial variability of moisture supply (Broccoli and Manabe, 1992) and be an explanation for the inconsistent climate changes in the region.

5.4. Late Holocene (b 4 ka) Since 3 ka EA monsoon dominated areas show lower effective moisture owing to gradual monsoon weakening since the midHolocene (Overpeck et al., 1996; An et al., 2000; Herzschuh, 2006). Westerlies-dominated areas, however, lack a uniform decline in effective moisture (Herzschuh, 2006; Chen et al., 2008) and records from boreal Central Asia show moisture conditions similar to present since 4 ka (Gunin et al., 1999; Prokopenko et al., 2007). Various lake level records in Mongolia provide evidence for only small uctuations (Tarasov et al., 1996; Peck et al., 2002; Fowell et al., 2003; Walther et al., 2003; Yang et al., 2004). Some records point at signicant climatic oscillations from 4 to 2.5 ka that are not well dated and understood (Mayewski et al., 2004; Demske et al., 2005; Prokopenko et al., 2007). Vipper et al. (1989) report distinct gravely lamina in various Mongolian lakes with an average calendar age of 3.6 ka that they interpret to reect a shift towards a regional precipitation regime with more intense storms. Moreover, modelling studies suggest increased aridity during the Late Holocene (Bush, 2005) and Prokopenko et al. (2007) report signicant regional warming between ca. 4 and 2.5 ka in the Baikal watershed (Prokopenko et al., 2007). Lower lake levels during 42.8 ka are also shown for Ugii Nuur and may be associated with increased aridity. Very high concentrations of

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MHC fall into this interval and a signicant increase in TOC and N associated with this peak suggest a strong biological activity in the lake. From 2.8 ka to present, the Ugii Nuur record indicates stable high lake levels that we interpret to reect enhanced moisture supply during the Late Holocene. Allogenic material delivery to the lake is high and ages of loess-like sediments show ongoing mineral dust deposition (Fig. 9). On the one hand, this may be explained by changes in rainfall patterns intensifying runoff and bed load transport to the lake. Moreover, changing surface properties generated by accumulation of loess-like deposits and associated reduced inltration capacities have shown to alter runoff characteristics (Yair and Bryan, 2000). On the other hand, it is expected that humans have been signicantly inuencing the ecosystem in the region and associated lateral material uxes since 2.8 ka. Rsch et al. (2005) infer from surface pollen records and a pollen record of UGI-4 an increased human inuence on woodland clearance by the Late Holocene. Tombs (Kurgans and Khirigsuurs), petroglyphs and wall remnants testify an anthropogenic inuence since the Palaeolithic in the study site and the Orkhon valley (Bemmann et al., in press). A cemetery nearby the Tamir and Orkhon conuence with more than 250 burials is likely of Xiongnu origin (3 rd2nd c. BC) (Batsaikhan et al., 2006), the memorial Khosh Tsaidam documents the inuence of Turks (68th c. AD) and the Uighurs (89th c. AD) established their capital Kharabalghasun and a rampart in the west to Lake Ugii Nuur (Minorsky, 1948; Drompp, 1999, 2005; Bemmann et al., in press). In medieval times (1314th c. AD) Chengis Khan decided to establish Karakorum as the capital of the Mongolian empire in the Orkhon Valley 70 km south of Ugii Nuur. Ugii Nuur was part of the peri-urban area of Karakorum, a domain where nomadic traditions mixed with various forms of agricultural activities to supply the political, economic and cultural center (Shiraishi, 2004; Erdenebat and Pohl, 2005). Travelogues report grain and vegetable cultivations on the bank of the Orkhon River, west of the lake (Shiraishi, 2004). Together with reports that the spring palace of the Mongolian emperor located on an elevation in the Orkhon oodplain was surrounded by numerous lakes (Shiraishi, 2004) that are presently only lled with water during wet spells (Bemmann et al., in press), these evidences support our inferred favorable moisture conditions during that time. The operation of furnaces with wood in the capital (Franken, 2005) may have strongly altered regional tree populations. Rearing and keeping animals within the surroundings of Karakorum was common in particular with regard to sheep (von den Driesch et al., in press) and can be regarded as an additional stress to the ecosystem by intensifying soil erosion processes especially in the vicinity of densely populated areas.

The construction of the monastery Erdenet Joo in Karakorum in 1585/86 and an abandoned settlement of seven stone buildings of Tungian Mandchurs origin (1617th c. AD) in the northwest of Lake Ugii Nuur (Weiers, 2005; Bemmann et al., in press) provide evidence for ongoing human activities in this region. 6. Conclusion In this study we present terrestrial and lake sediment records from Ugii Nuur in central Mongolia. The records allow for an insight into the environmental and climatic evolution of the steppe region in Mongolia, a region which is only loosely covered by paleoenvironmental studies so far. We conclude that the paleoenvironmental interpretations of our records provide similar results to those obtained elsewhere in the westerlies dominated region of Central Asia. A dry and cold pre-Holocene period is followed by slightly more humid conditions in the Early Holocene that were not sufcient to generate a dense vegetation cover to cease Aeolian dynamics of sand mobilization. During the Mid Holocene our records point at favorable moisture conditions and warming associated with change from sand mobilization to loess accumulation. Between 4 and 2.8 ka we track a decline in moisture supply which is then followed by relatively humid conditions until today. Our ndings and their discussion in a regional paleoenvironmental context reveal that the areas north of the predominantly EA monsoon dominated region most likely reacted to changes in the extent of the westerlies. Yet, one has to keep in mind that especially for heavy rains in this area interactions between mid latitude frontal systems and lower latitude cyclone/anticyclone systems are essential (Bao, 1987). Hence, past changes in the magnitude and frequency distribution of such singular events may greatly inuence the paleoenvironmental evolution in the westerlies dominated region. Assessing and interpreting sedimentary archives of such events remain a major challenge due to the complexity of the underlying climatic and surface processes. In addition, our study provides insight into the Late Holocene evolution of the Orkhon Valley. At the current state of our knowledge, we exclude neither natural nor anthropogenic forcings on the environmental evolution during this time. The effects of humans and livestock on the steppe ecotone in this area are still highly disputed (Hilbig, 2000; Dulamsuren et al., 2005; Miehe et al., 2007; Schltz et al., 2008) and population and cattle densities of former tribes and peoples inhabiting the Orkhon Valley are largely unknown. Drivers of environmental change beyond natural forcing should be considered to understand the environmental evolution in this region. Various results support an interpretation that the environmental history of the Mongolian plateau is driven by natural forcings rather than by human activities (Tarasov et al., 2007a; Schltz et al., 2008). Since most of these results are limited to specic areas, great difference can be expected among different regions. We suggest that the repeated colonization of the Orkhon Valley was a decisive driver of environmental evolution in this area throughout the last 3000 years. The way, humans affected the environmental evolution of this area by husbandry and pasture farming, rewood use and other economical practices remains largely unknown. A more detailed survey of the humanenvironmental interrelations in this area will not only contribute to a better understanding of the historical evolution, but will provide us the means to assess the future environmental change in steppe region of Mongolia. Acknowledgments We thank Altangerel Bat-Erdenet, Manuela Burmeister, Dr. Philipp Hlzmann, Riccardo Klinger, Emmi Krings, Judith Mahnkopf, Dr. Rper, Heidi Strohm, Dr. Sumiko Tsukamoto and Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Michael Walther for constructive comments, help during eldwork and technical support.

Fig. 9. Grain size distribution in various depths of UGITP-08.


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