Preservation biases are pervasive in Holocene paleofire records

Richard S. Vachula, Rachel Y. Sheppard, Anson H. Cheung

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5 Scopus citations


Fire and its controls span several spatial and temporal scales in the Earth System and sedimentary paleofire archives are the primary means of inferring how fire varies on timescales exceeding observational records. However, our understanding of the biases affecting paleofire records remains limited. We address this gap by assembling a dataset of Holocene paleofire records to test whether preservation biases interfere with paleofire interpretations. The dataset contains 40 records composed of a total of 17,225 charcoal accumulation rate (CHAR) samples. We find that the “Sadler effect,” which is the observation that sedimentation rates decrease systematically when measured over longer timescales due to the incorporation of sedimentary hiatuses, is pervasive in these paleofire records. In the compiled dataset, the age ranges of measurement share a negative power law relationship with both accumulation rate (AR; AR = 0.4018*[sample age range]-1.09) and CHAR (CHAR = 1.118*[sample age range]-0.6655), indicating that longer time spans of measurement are more likely to incorporate longer period hiatuses into sediment records. This biases AR measurements, which subsequently bias CHAR values. Indeed, more than half of the paleofire records (n = 21) are composed of CHAR values which share a statistically significant negative relationship with the sample age range of their measurement. To our knowledge, our results are the first to identify this sedimentary bias in Holocene paleofire records. As a solution, we therefore provide an interpretative framework which outlines necessary steps to identify preservation bias in paleofire records and intervals. Lastly, we explore the implications of these findings for paleofire research.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number111165
JournalPalaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology
StatePublished - Sep 15 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank the original authors of the datasets we analyzed for their efforts and for making their data publicly available. We thank Dr. Lysanna Anderson and an anonymous reviewer for their constructive comments and improvements to this manuscript. RSV was supported by start-up funds from Auburn University and the Mellon postdoctoral fellowship in the Environmental Science and Policy Program at the College of William and Mary. RYS was supported at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration ( 80NM0018D0004 ).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier B.V.


  • Charcoal
  • Paleofire
  • Sadler effect
  • Sediment accumulation rates

Continental Scientific Drilling Facility tags

  • COLO


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