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Journal Article

Charcoal analysis for temperature reconstruction with infrared spectroscopy


Maezumi,  S. Yoshi
Department of Archaeology, Max Planck Institute of Geoanthropology, Max Planck Society;

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Minatre, K. L., Arienzo, M. M., Moosmüller, H., & Maezumi, S. Y. (2024). Charcoal analysis for temperature reconstruction with infrared spectroscopy. Frontiers in Earth Science, 12: 1354080. doi:10.3389/feart.2024.1354080.

Cite as: https://hdl.handle.net/21.11116/0000-000E-70C1-9
The duration and maximum combustion temperature of vegetation fires are important fire properties with implications for ecology, hydrology, hazard potential, and many other processes. Directly measuring maximum combustion temperature during vegetation fires is difficult. However, chemical transformations associated with temperature are reflected in the chemical properties of charcoals (a by-product of fire). Therefore, charcoal could be used indirectly to determine the maximum combustion temperature of vegetation fires with application to palaeoecological charcoal records. To evaluate the reliability of charcoal chemistry as an indicator of maximum combustion temperature, we studied the chemical properties of charcoal formed through two laboratory methods at measured temperatures. Using a muffle furnace, we generated charcoal from the woody material of ten different tree and shrub species at seven distinct peak temperatures (from 200°C to 800°C in 100°C increments). Additionally, we simulated more natural combustion conditions by burning woody material and leaves of four tree species in a combustion facility instrumented with thermocouples, including thermocouples inside and outside of tree branches. Charcoal samples generated in these controlled settings were analyzed using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy to characterize their chemical properties. The Modern Analogue Technique (MAT) was employed on FTIR spectra of muffle furnace charcoal to assess the accuracy of inferring maximum pyrolysis temperature. The MAT model temperature matching accuracy improved from 46% for all analogues to 81% when including ±100°C. Furthermore, we used MAT to compare charcoal created in the combustion facility with muffle furnace charcoal. Our findings indicate that the spectra of charcoals generated in a combustion facility can be accurately matched with muffle furnace-created charcoals of similar temperatures using MAT, and the accuracy improved when comparing the maximum pyrolysis temperature from muffle furnace charcoal with the maximum inner temperature of the combustion facility charcoal. This suggests that charcoal produced in a muffle furnace may be representative of the inner maximum temperatures for vegetation fire-produced charcoals.