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One theory states that the fertility of loess soils is due largely to cation exchange capacity (the ability of plants to absorb nutrients from the soil) and porosity (the air-filled space in the soil).
The fertility of loess is not due to organic matter content, which tends to be rather low, unlike tropical soils which derive their fertility almost wholly from organic matter.
This soil has a characteristic called vertical cleavage which makes it easily excavated to form cave dwellings, a popular method of making human habitations in some parts of China. In several areas of the world, loess ridges have formed that are aligned with the prevailing winds during the last glacial maximum.
These are called "paha ridges" in America and "greda ridges" in Europe.
The term "Löß" was first described in Central Europe by Karl Cäsar von Leonhard (1823–1824) A tremendous number of papers have been published since then, focusing on the formation of loess and on loess/palaeosol (older soil buried under deposits) sequences as archives of climate and environment change.
These water conservation works were carried out extensively in China and the research of Loess in China has been continued since 1954.
Because the grains are angular, loess will often stand in banks for many years without slumping.
The loess deposits found along both sides of the Mississippi River Alluvial Valley are a classic example of periglacial loess.
During the Quaternary, loess and loess-like sediments were formed in periglacial environments on mid-continental shield areas in Europe and Siberia, on the margins of high mountain ranges like in Tajikistan and on semi-arid margins of some lowland deserts like in China.
Even well managed loess farmland can experience dramatic erosion of well over 2.5 kg /m per year.
In China the loess deposits which give the Yellow River its color have been farmed and have produced phenomenal yields for over one thousand years.
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Loess grains are angular with little polishing or rounding and composed of crystals of quartz, feldspar, mica and other minerals. Loess deposits may become very thick; more than a hundred meters in areas of China and tens of meters in parts of the Midwestern United States.