Experimental production of charcoal morphologies to discriminate fuel source and fire type: an example from Siberian taiga

Feurdean, Angelica

The analysis of charcoal fragments in peat and lake sediments is the most widely used approach to reconstruct past biomass burning. With a few exceptions, this method typically relies on the quantification of the total charcoal content of the sediment. To enhance charcoal analyses for the reconstruction of past fire regimes and make the method more relevant to studies of both plant evolution and fire management, the extraction of more information from charcoal particles is critical. Here, I used a muffle oven to burn seven fuel types comprising 17 species from boreal Siberia (near Teguldet village), which are also commonly found in the Northern Hemisphere, and built on published schemes to develop morphometric and finer diagnostic classifications of the experimentally charred particles. I then combined these results with those from fossil charcoal from a peat core taken from the same location (Ulukh-Chayakh mire) in order to demonstrate the relevance of these experiments to the fossil charcoal records. Results show that graminoids, Sphagnum, and wood (trunk) lose the most mass at low burn temperatures (inline-formula<300inline-formulaC), whereas heathland shrub leaves, brown moss, and ferns lose the most mass at high burn temperatures. This suggests that species with low mass retention in high-temperature fires are likely to be under-represented in the fossil charcoal record. The charcoal particle aspect ratio appeared to be the strongest indicator of the fuel type burnt. Graminoid charcoal particles are the most elongate (6.7–11.5), with a threshold above 6 that may be indicative of wetland graminoids; leaves are the shortest and bulkiest (2.1–3.5); and twigs and wood are intermediate (2.0–5.2). Further, the use of fine diagnostic features was more successful in separating wood, graminoids, and leaves, but it was difficult to further differentiate these fuel types due to overlapping features. High-aspect-ratio particles, dominated by graminoid and Sphagnum morphologies, may be robust indicators of low-temperature surface fires, whereas abundant wood and leaf morphologies as well as low-aspect-ratio particles are indicative of higher-temperature fires. However, the overlapping morphologies of leaves and wood from trees and shrubs make it hard to distinguish between high-intensity surface fires, combusting living shrubs and dead wood and leaves, and high-intensity crown fires that have burnt living trees. Distinct particle shape may also influence charcoal transportation, with elongated particles (graminoids) potentially having a more heterogeneous distribution and being deposited farther away from the origin of fire than the rounder, polygonal leaf particles. Despite these limitations, the combined use of charred-particle aspect ratios and fuel morphotypes can aid in the more robust interpretation of fuel source and fire-type changes. Lastly, I highlight the further investigations needed to refine the histories of past wildfires.

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Feurdean, Angelica: Experimental production of charcoal morphologies to discriminate fuel source and fire type: an example from Siberian taiga. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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Rechteinhaber: Angelica Feurdean

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