A 2600-year record of past polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) deposition at Holzmaar (Eifel, Germany)

Bandowe, Benjamin; Srinivasan, Prakash; Seelge, Martin; Sirocko, Frank; Wilcke, Wolfgang (2014). A 2600-year record of past polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) deposition at Holzmaar (Eifel, Germany). Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology, 401, pp. 111-121. Elsevier 10.1016/j.palaeo.2014.02.021

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Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are a proxy for climate- and human-related historical fire activity which has rarely been used beyond 1800 AD. We explored the concentration and composition patterns of PAHs together with other proxies (charcoal, C, N, S, δ13C, δ15N, and δ34S) in a sediment core of Holzmaar as indicators of variations in climate and anthropogenic activity over the past 2600 years. The concentrations of pyrogenic PAHs remained low (< 500 ng g− 1) from the pre-Roman Iron Age (600 BC) until the first significant increases to ca. 1000–1800 ng g− 1 between 1700 and 1750 AD related to regional iron production. The highest increases in pyrogenic PAH concentrations occurred with industrialization peaking in the 1960s. PAH concentrations in most recent sediments decreased to pre-industrial levels because of emission control measures and the switch from coal to oil and gas as major fuel sources. Fluxes of PAHs (mg km− 2 yr− 1) increased in the order Migration Period and Early Middle Ages < pre-Roman Iron Ages < Roman era < High Middle Ages and Renaissance < pre-industrial modern period < industrial modern period. The changes of PAHs fluxes in pre-industrial times parallel known changes in local, regional and continental anthropogenic activity and climatic variations or their interactions across these historical periods. Perylene, a mainly biologically produced compound, was the dominant PAH in pre-industrial times. The Migration Period and the Early Middle Ages witnessed the most profound and simultaneous changes to the sedimentary organic matter properties in the past 2600 years including the lowest PAH fluxes because of reduced human activity and more negative δ13C and δ15N values probably in response to colder and wetter conditions.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography > Physical Geography > Unit Soil Science
08 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography

UniBE Contributor:

Bandowe, Benjamin, Wilcke, Wolfgang


900 History > 910 Geography & travel








Monika Wälti-Stampfli

Date Deposited:

05 Sep 2014 16:46

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2022 14:34

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, Charcoal, Stable isotope ratios of C, N and S, Lake sediments, Human activity, Climate





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