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The magnetic record of inorganic fly ash deposition in lake sediments and ombrotrophic peats

Oldfield, Frank, Gedye, Sharon A, Hunt, Andrew, Jones, Jennifer M, Jones, Mervyn DH, Richardson, Nigel
Anthropocene epoch, fly ash, fuel combustion, industrialization, iron, lakes, magnetism, manufacturing, minerals, particulates, peat, pollen analysis, radionuclides, sediments, Arctic region, England, North America, Scandinavia
Interest in identifying a geological marker signifying the starting point for the Anthropocene has prompted an exploration of the stratigraphic record of inorganic particulates generated by industrial activities. Magnetic measurements of recent lake sediments and ombrotrophic peats are here used to reconstruct the history of deposition of inorganic fly-ash spheres resulting mainly from solid fuel combustion and metal smelting. The chronologies used have been based on moss-increment counting, radioisotope dating and pollen analysis. The sites come from the United Kingdom, Scandinavia and North America. In several cases where detailed chronologies of both fly-ash deposition and local industry can be compared, the sequence of concentration-linked magnetic measurements appears to capture accurately the record of industrial development despite incontrovertible evidence from other peat-based records for some selective dissolution of magnetic minerals. The dates at which magnetic concentration increases begin range from the 16th century in the peat profiles around the head of Morecambe Bay, South Cumbria, in North-West England where early iron manufacture using charcoal-fuelled bloomery hearths is well documented, to the mid-20th century at the remotest sites in Arctic Scandinavia. The lake sediment profiles used here come mainly from the United Kingdom and, in most cases, they date increases to the late 19th century or the first decades of the 20th century. Any attempt to use the magnetic record of fly-ash deposition in lake sediments and/or peats to mark the date chosen as the onset of the Anthropocene would require careful choice of site location and archive, bearing in mind the issue of selective magnetic mineral dissolution.