Quantifying the source area of macroscopic charcoal with a particle dispersal model

Matthew Edward Peters, Philip Edward Higuera

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

134 Scopus citations


To aid interpreting the source area of charcoal in lake-sediment records, we compare charcoal deposition from an experimental fire to predictions from a particle dispersal model. This provides both a theoretical framework for understanding how lake sediments reflect fire history and a foundation for simulating sediment-charcoal records. The dispersal model captures the two-dimensional patterns in the empirical data (predicted vs. observed r2 = 0.67, p < 0.001). We further develop the model to calculate the potential charcoal source area (PCSA) for several classes of fires. Results suggest that (1) variations in airborne charcoal deposition can be explained largely by the size of PCSAs relative to fire sizes and (2) macroscopic charcoal travels many kilometers, longer than suggested by dispersal data from experimental fires but consistent with dispersal data from uncontrolled fires.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)304-310
Number of pages7
JournalQuaternary Research (United States)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2007


  • Charcoal analysis
  • Charcoal dispersal
  • Charcoal source area
  • Dispersal model
  • Experimental burn
  • Fire history


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