Islands are natural dust traps, and San Clemente Island, California, is a good example. Soils on marine terraces cut into Miocene andesite on this island are clay-rich Vertisols or Alfisols with vertic properties. These soils are overlain by silt-rich mantles, 5-20 cm thick, that contrast sharply with the underlying clay-rich subsoils. The silt mantles have a mineralogy that is distinct from the island bedrock. Silt mantles are rich in quartz, which is rare in the island andesite. The clay fraction of the silt mantles is dominated by mica, also absent from local andesite, and contrasts with the subsoils, dominated by smectite. Ternary plots of immobile trace elements (Sc-Th-La and Ta-Nd-Cr) show that the island andesite has a composition intermediate between average upper continental crust and average oceanic crust. In contrast, the silt and, to a lesser extent, clay fractions of the silt mantles have compositions closer to average upper continental crust. The silt mantles have particle size distributions similar to loess and Mojave Desert dust, but are coarser than long-range-transported Asian dust. We infer from these observations that the silt mantles are derived from airborne dust from the North American mainland, probably river valleys in the coastal mountains of southern California and/or the Mojave Desert. Although average winds are from the northwest in coastal California, easterly winds occur numerous times of the year when "Santa Ana" conditions prevail, caused by a high-pressure cell centered over the Great Basin. Examination of satellite imagery shows that easterly Santa Ana winds carry abundant dust to the eastern Pacific Ocean and the California Channel Islands. Airborne dust from mainland North America may be an important component of the offshore sediment budget in the easternmost Pacific Ocean, a finding of potential biogeochemical and climatic significance.
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Airborne dust transport to the eastern Pacific Ocean off southern California: Evidence from San Clemente Island