Ferdinand von Richthofen's loess research in China

Jie FEI, Qing PEI

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Ferdinand von Richthofen (1833–1905), a great German geographer and geologist, was well known for his loess research in China. Here we reexamine the background of Richthofen's loess research and review his contributions and limitations according to the existing literature. An important historical background of Richthofen's loess research was that foreigners have been authorized to travel in the interior of China since the 1860s as a result of the Treaties of Tientsin. Richthofen made seven comprehensive scientific explorations in China in 1868–1872, whereas loess research was just one of his topics. He experienced dust weather on the Loess Plateau, where he had direct and deep impressions of the transport of dust, which should have helped him develop the hypothesis of the Aeolian origin of loess. Apart from the Aeolian hypothesis, his other achievements include the differentiation of the regenerated loess from the original loess, the discovery of the loess near Nanjing, the identification of the desiccated lakes as sources of dust storms, and the identification of "vertical cleavage" as a major property of loess. Copyright © 2019 The Author(s).
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)144-156
JournalProgress in Physical Geography
Issue number1
Early online dateJan 2019
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


Fei, J., & Pei, Q. (2019). Ferdinand von Richthofen's loess research in China. Progress in Physical Geography, 43(1), 144-156. doi: 10.1177/0309133318824201


  • Richthofen
  • Loess
  • Aeolian hypothesis
  • Pumpelly
  • China


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