Controls on loss-on-ignition variation in cores from two shallow lakes in the northeastern United States

Bryan Shuman

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78 Scopus citations


Loss-on-ignition analysis of Quaternary lake sediments provides an inexpensive and easy way to investigate past environmental changes. The mass loss on ignition at 550°C (LOI) from lake sediment cores may vary because of temporal changes in: (1) sediment composition controlled by factors such as productivity, inorganic inputs, and decomposition; and (2) the patterns of sediment accumulation controlled by factors such as basin morphology and water level. Climatic changes can alter both. Here, modern surface samples and transects of sediment cores, collected across small (<10 ha), shallow (<4 m) lakes in the northeastern United States, show that LOI varies little (2-5%) across the deep portions of these small lakes at a given time. Large changes in LOI occur only at the transition into the littoral (shallow) zone. LOI variations in sediment cores that exceed 2-5%, therefore, appear to represent meaningful environmental changes. However, because of the many possible controls, changes in the LOI of a single core are often hard to interpret. Multiple cores increase the interpretability. At lakes studied here, similar LOI trends among several cores confirm that some LOI changes resulted from basin-wide shifts in sediment composition. Differences among cores, however, developed during the early- and mid-Holocene and indicate that the edge of the littoral zone moved towards the centers of the lakes during two periods of low lake levels, at ca. 11 000-8000 and ca. 5400-3000 cal yr B.P. The basin-wide balance of sediment sources controlled the LOI from deep-water sediments, but sedimentation patterns, which changed as lake levels changed, were also important. LOI differences among cores may therefore help identify past lake-level changes in other lakes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)371-385
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Paleolimnology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2003

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Funding to T. Webb III from the Earth System History program of NSF for TEMPO supported the field and lab research. B. Shuman was supported by a NOAA Climate and Global Change Postdoctoral Fellowship during the data analysis and writing. Thanks to P. Bartlein and the University of Oregon, Department of Geography, for additional support. A. Tarbox, J. Kaye, and P. Newby provided critical field and lab assistance, as well as important discussion. I thank P. Killoran, P. McDowell, P.J.H. Richard, and T. Webb III for useful commentary, and A.B. Beaudoin for a helpful review.

Copyright 2008 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Lake sediment
  • Lake-level change
  • Loss on ignition
  • Northeastern United States
  • Organic matter
  • Paleoclimate

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  • ECHO


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