Particle-size evidence for source areas of charcoal accumulation in late holocene sediments of eastern north american lakes
Two methods of analyzing charcoal in sediment reveal changes in charcoal accumulation across temperate eastern North America during the last several hundred years. In one method the analyst counts mostly small particles that reflect regional emissions; in the other, the analyst counts only larger particles derived mostly from such local sources as catchment fires. We used these methods to compare charcoal accumulation at 14 lakes from the prairie/forest border in Minnesota to eastern Maine. The two methods gave concordant accumulation rates for sediments of pre-1850 age at each of 4 lakes analyzed by both methods. This concordance is consistent with the interpretation that pre-1850 emissions were controlled by broad-scale factors, such as climatically controlled regional differences in fuels and moisture. Since 1900 large particles decreased greatly, and small particles decreased slightly, in Minnesota and Wisconsin. By contrast in the Northeast the large particle accumulation has remained at the low values measured in pre-1900 sediments at most sites, while small particles increased everywhere east of central New York and Pennsylvania. The observed patterns suggest that (1) large particles primarily reflect local fires that were common in the Midwest before fire suppression became effective, (2) large particles were rare in the Northeast, especially before extensive land clearance, (3) small particles reflect regional combustion that increased in the Northeast after extensive use of fire for land clearance and wood burning for industrial purposes of the 19th century, and (4) small particles remain abundant in the Midwest long after effective fire suppression, probably because these well-dispersed small particles have a large source area that extends beyond the local wildfires that account for large particles before European settlement. © 1995 Academic Press. All rights reserved.
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