Reconstruction of former Central Asian glaciers extents can provide valuable information about past atmospheric circulation variations. These extents, often marked by terminal moraines, need to be chronologically constrained. Cosmogenic nuclide exposure (CNE) dating is widely used to directly date moraines. In addition, there is increasing interest on using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) techniques for dating glacial landforms. This thesis focuses on the methodological aspects of directly dating glacial landforms to perform paleoglacial reconstructions in Central Asia, with an emphasis on OSL dating.
For OSL dating of sediments from glacial settings, it is important to measure the luminescence signal at the single grain scale, because the sediments are likely affected by partial bleaching due to short light exposure during glacial or glaciofluvial transport. The use of an Electron Multiplying Charges Coupled Device (EMCCD)-based imaging system for single grain OSL measurements would offer larger flexibility in light stimulation and sediment type, compared to the current Single Grain Risø reader. An automated image processing procedure has been developed to compensate for sample carrier displacement over repeated measurements and for attributing pixels to each grain for signal integration when using this imaging system. However, significant cross talk contamination, demonstrated by laboratory and simulation experiments, prohibits accurate single grain luminescence measurements. Preliminary experiments using a basic image processing algorithm show good potential for software correction solutions.
Paleoglacial reconstructions conducted in the Altai Mountains, Central Asia, using both CNE and OSL dating demonstrate that luminescence measurements of glaciofluvial sediments performed at the multi-grain scale result in large age overestimates, and that single grain measurements allow for more accurate dating of glacial landforms. However, uncertainties remain that are related to the model used for extracting equivalent doses for well-bleached grains and to fading corrections when using feldspar minerals. The timing of glaciation can be inferred from scattered CNE moraine boulder ages if most of the ages are concentrated within a few thousand years, with only few ages clearly older or younger. Overall, combining CNE and OSL techniques for dating a glacial landform is a powerful approach for producing robust glacial chronologies, despite uncertainties inherent to each technique.
Paleoglacial reconstructions from the Altai Mountains indicate Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 2 and MIS 4/late MIS 5 local Last Glacial Maximums. In Central Asia, in addition to a regional MIS 2 glaciation, previous studies indicate a period of major glacial advances during MIS 3 that is out of phase with global ice volume records. However, most MIS 3 glacial chronologies from Central Asia are based on too few or too heavily scattered CNE data sets, or on OSL or Electron Spin Resonance (ESR) ages for which partial bleaching has not been properly investigated. Hence, at this stage, chronological evidence is insufficient to demonstrate a regional MIS 3 glaciation in Central Asia.
Surge-related glacial features identified in the Russian Altai also highlight the importance of conducting detailed geomorphology and sedimentology studies to understand former ice dynamics, which is essential for inferring appropriate paleoclimate information from paleoglacial reconstructions.