Reconstructing chemical weathering, physical erosion and monsoon intensity since 25Ma in the northern South China Sea: A review of competing proxies

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Reconstructing the changing strength of the East Asian summer monsoon has been controversial because different proxies, many being indirect measures of rainfall, tell contrasting stories about how this has varied over long periods of geologic time. Here we present new Sr isotope, grain-size and clastic flux data and synthesize existing proxies to reconstruct changing chemical erosion in the northern South China Sea since the Oligocene, using the links between weathering rates and monsoon strength established in younger sediments as a way to infer intensity. Chemical proxies such as K/Rb, K/Al and the Chemical Index of Alteration (CIA), together with clay proxies like kaolinite/(illite+chlorite) show a steady decline in alteration after a sharp fall following a maximum at the Mid Miocene Climatic Optimum (MMCO; 15.5-17.2Ma), probably as a result of cooling global temperatures. In contrast, physical erosion proxies, including bulk Ti/Ca and clastic mass accumulation rates (MAR), show peaks at 21-23Ma, ~19Ma and 15.5-17.2Ma, implying faster run-off in the absence of drainage capture. Rates increase again, likely driven by slightly increased run-off after 13Ma, but decrease after 8Ma, which is identified as a period of summer monsoon weakening. Sr isotope composition correlates with hematite/goethite and the spectral proxy CRAT to show stronger weathering linked to more monsoonal seasonality. These proxies argue for a strengthening of the East Asian Monsoon after 22-23Ma, followed by an extended period of monsoon maximum between 18 and 10Ma, then weakening. There is some suggestion that the summer monsoon may have strengthened since 3-4Ma after reaching a minimum in the Pliocene. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.

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Earth-Science Reviews

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