OSL dating of loess deposits bracketing Sheep Creek tephra beds, northwest Canada: dim and problematic single-grain OSL characteristics and their effect on multi-grain age estimates
Geochemically-fingerprinted tephra beds provide unique chronostratigraphic markers for comparing Quaternary sedimentary records across eastern Beringia (Alaska and Yukon Territory). Establishing reliable numerical age control on these tephra horizons enables them to be placed within firm temporal frameworks and increases their potential as correlative tools for regional palaeoenvironmental reconstructions. To this end we present new single-grain and multi-grain quartz optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) chronologies for loess deposits bracketing three well-documented and regionally significant variants of the Sheep Creek tephra (SCt) at two sites in west-central Yukon Territory (Ash Bend and Quartz Creek). Single-grain OSL ages bracketing the SCt-A and SCt-K reveal that these tephras were deposited during late Marine Isotope Stage (MIS) 5 or early MIS 4. The SCt-C variant and associated organic-rich bed at Ash Bend were likely deposited during late MIS 5, based on a single-grain OSL age of ∼81 ka for the overlying sediments. The single-grain OSL ages obtained for these deposits are in stratigraphic order and in broad agreement with a fission track age estimate of ∼77 ka for the SCt-K. In contrast, comparative chronologies obtained using multi-grain aliquots are stratigraphically inconsistent and unexpectedly young when compared with the independent SCt-K age. Detailed examination of the single-grain OSL datasets reveal a range of unfavourable luminescent properties that could have contributed to the multi-grain aliquot age discrepancies; including, very low yields of luminescent grains, weak OSL signal sensitivities and large populations of aberrant grains (particularly 0 Gy grains and ‘dim’ grains with a tendency to sensitise during the equivalent dose (De) measurement sequence) that have similarly sized OSL signals as grains used for De analysis. Synthetic aliquot De datasets constructed from single-grain OSL measurements reveal that the large proportional light sum contributions of 0 Gy and dim grains could possibly account for multi-grain age underestimations in some of the Ash Bend samples. In light of these potentially problematic averaging effects, we do not consider the multi-grain OSL ages to be reliable and suggest that single-grain approaches may be preferable for dating sediments with similar quartz luminescence behaviours across this region.