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(lĕs, lō`əs, Ger. lös), unstratified soil deposit of varying thickness, usually yellowish and composed of fine-grained angular mineral particles mixed with clay. It is found in many regions of the world and is probably related to the chernozemchernozem
or black earth,
variety of soil rich in organic matter in the form of humus. It is generally a modified type of loess. True chernozem is black in color, but there are various grades, shading off into gray and chestnut-brown soils.
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 soils of Russia; extensive deposits occur along the Mississippi River and its tributaries, on the Columbia Plateau in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho, and in China. Loess is an erosional product carried by the wind from adjacent deserts, from frost-pulverized outwash of glaciers (during the Pleistocene epoch), or from the floodplains of glacier-fed streams. Studies of particles transported by wind from plains recently denuded by tillage show that the material is sorted to about the same degree as loess. Much of the loess in the United States and Europe are of glacial origin; in China, of desert origin and may reach up to 300 feet (90 meters) thick. Loess is usually deep, fertile soil, rich in organic remains (especially the shells of snails) and characterized by slender, vertical tubes that are said to represent stems and roots of plants buried by sediment. When cut by streams or other agencies, loess remains standing in cliffs exhibiting a vertical, columnar structure; this is attributed to the vertical tubes and to the angularity of the grains and their consequent tendency to interlock. The uncompacted character of loess makes it subject to rapid erosion.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



unstratified, homogeneous, calcareous sedimentary deposit, light yellow or buff in color. Particles 0.01–0.05 mm in size predominate; clay particles smaller than 0.005 mm are present in an amount of 5–30 percent. A certain quantity of particles 0.01–0.05 mm in size is represented by aggregates formed during the coagulation of the colloidal part of the sediment. The porosity of loess is 40–55 percent; it is traversed by narrow tubes (macro-pores, traces of plant remains).

In terms of its composition loess is usually classified as a loam or, more rarely, as a sandy loam. The large particles in the loess consist mostly of quartz and feldspar, and to a lesser degree of mica, hornblende, and so forth. In some interlayers there are many grains of volcanic ash that has been carried by the wind for hundreds of kilometers from the site of eruption. The fine particles in the loess consist of various clay minerals (hydromica, kaolinite, and montmorillonite). Sometimes calcareous concretions (loess dolls, lime nodules), the shells of terrestrial mollusks, and the bones of mammals, particularly rodents and mammoths, are encountered in the loess.

Loess is found in Europe, Asia, North America, and South America, predominantly in the steppe and semisteppe regions of the temperate zone. It occurs in the form of a blanket from several meters to 50–100 m thick on water divides, slopes, and ancient valley terraces.

The question of the origin of loess has still not been finally settled. Its formation has been associated with different geological processes (on land with the activity of wind, rainwater and snow meltwater, soil formation and weathering, volcanism, the settling of cosmic dust, and sedimentation in lakes and seas) as well as stages of rock formation. In 1877 the German scientist F. Richthofen proved the subaerial origin of Chinese loess (it was formed on land, and water played a limited role). Also popular are theories of the eolian (V. A. Obruchev), pedogenic (L. S. Berg), and polygenetic (eolian, deluvial, and pedogeniceluvial processes occurring in an arid climate) origin of loess. The loess has intercalations with a clearly expressed soil profile, that is, buried soils that testify to the existence of warmer and wetter periods (interglacials) than the time during which the loess formed (ice ages).

Loess is the parent rock of chernozem and sierozem soil. It is used for making brick (adobe) and cement and as a filler for levees and dams. After wetting, the loess is often compacted under the pressure of its own weight or the weight of structures, and the ground subsides, which can cause severe damage to structures.


Obruchev, V. A. Izbrannye raboty po geografii Azii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1951.
Larionov, A. K., V. A. Priklonskii, and V. P. Anan’ev. Lessovye porody SSSR i ikh stroitel’nye svoistva, part 1. Leningrad, 1959.
Berg, L. S. Izbr. trudy, vol. 3. Moscow, 1960.
Kriger, N. I. Less, ego svoistva i sviaz’s geografi-cheskoi sredoi. Moscow, 1965.
Cailleux, A. Les Loess et limons éoliens de France. Paris-Liège, 1954.
Guenther, E. W. Sedimentpetrographische Untersuchung von Lössen, part 1. Cologne-Graz, 1961.
Richthofen, F. von. China, vol. 1. Berlin, 1877.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


An essentially unconsolidated, unstratified calcareous silt; commonly it is homogeneous, permeable, and buff to gray in color, and contains calcareous concretions and fossils.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


A uniform wind-deposited accumulation of silty material having an open structure and relatively high cohesion due to cementation of clay or calcium-like material at grain contacts.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


a light-coloured fine-grained accumulation of clay and silt particles that have been deposited by the wind
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
References in periodicals archive ?
(1) Loess soil is in natural unsaturated status before soaking.
(2007), for instance, reported significant no tillage and residue cover effects (reducing runoff and soil loss by 34% and 62%, respectively) from rainfall simulation experiments in the drier western loess areas of Gansu province, and Liang (1997) showed the effectiveness of cover in protecting the loess soil in Shaanxi.
Soil productivity and erosion of Iowa loess soil. Transactions of American Society of Agricultural Engineering (ASAE) 25:1295-1299.
Xiubin H, Zhanbin H (2001) Zeolite application for enhancing water infiltration and retention in loess soil. Resources, Conservation and Recycling 34, 45-52.
These were a pumice (loamy sand), argillite (loam), ash (sandy clay loam), and loess soil (silty clay) (Zou 1999).
Plant response to topsoil thickness and to fertilizer on an eroded loess soil. J.
Plant response to topsoil thickness on uneroded loess soil J.
Loess soils from Jiuzhoutai town (a seasonal frozen region) of Lanzhou City, northwest China, are used in this study.
In contrast, the total content of Cd, Cr, Mn and Zn was found to be significantly greater (p<0.05) in piedmont soils than alluvium and loess soils. Similarly, Ni and Pb were significantly greater (p<0.05) in loess soils than piedmont and alluvium soils.
Reduced tillage increased OC and N content of the surface soil layer (0-100 mm) in 6 of 7 silt loess soils with typical Western European arable rotations under temperate conditions.
Growing wheat and other crops on steep (45 to 60 percent) slopes is common on the deep, loess soils. Aeschliman recalls, "When I was a boy, erosion was horrible.