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10 Achievements of the Year

Late Oligocene-early Miocene Birth of the Taklimakan Desert


Author: Hongbo Zheng
From: School of Geography Science
Form of Outcome: Papers
Introduction to Outcome: As the world’s second largest sand sea and one of the most important dust sources to the global aerosol system, the formation of the Taklimakan Desert marks a major environmental event in central Asia during the Cenozoic. Determining when and how the desert formed holds the key to better understanding the tectonic-climatic linkage in this critical region.In this study, we applied radioisotopic methods to precisely date a volcanic tuff preserved in the stratigraphy. We constrained the initial desertification to be late Oligocene to early Miocene, between ~26.5 – 22.5 Ma. We suggest that the Taklimakan Desert was formed as a response to a combination of widespread regional aridification and increased erosion in the surrounding mountain fronts, both of which are closely linked to the tectonic uplift of the Tibetan-Pamir Plateau and Tian Shan, which had reached a climatically sensitive threshold at this time.
Since its publication (PNAS, 2015), this work has attracted wide attention from the scientific community, with 5300 downloads within the first week. Part of this work has received a National Natural Science Award (Second Class). In addition, CCTV-13 also reported the achievement to the public.