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    The assessment of 21 0 Pb data from sites with varying sediment accumulation rates

    P. G. Appleby' & F. Oldfield2I Department of Applied Mathematics & Theoretical Physics, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX,U.K.2 Department of Geography, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3BX, U.K.

    Keywords: paleolimnology, 210 Pb, sediment accumulation

    Abstract

    The last few years have seen a dramatic growth in the use of 210 pb sediment dating. Despite this,considerable doubt still surrounds the nature of the processes by which 2 10 Pb is deposited in lake sediments,

    and this has lead to a situation where there is a choice of dating models offering different interpretations of2 10 Pb data. In assessing 2 10 Pb data it is therefore essential to first of all determine whether data is consistentwith the assumptions of the dating model, and to then compare the 2 10 b chronology with independentdating evidence. We have tested 2 10b data from a wide variety of sites, and our calculations indicate that thecrs (constant rate of 21 0 Pb supply) model provides a reasonably accurate chronology when the total 2 10 Pbcontents of cores from neighbouring locations are comparable.

    Introduction 2 1 0Pb Chronology of lake sediments

    In most of the early papers on 2 10 Pb chronology(Krishnaswamy et al. 1971; Koide et al. 1973; Rob-

    bins & Edgington 1975), the methods used assumeda constant rate of sediment accumulation, and wereapplicable to sediment cores in which the unsup-ported 2 10 Pb activity declined exponentially downthe core. There is, however, abundant evidence foraccelerating accumulation rates in many lakes inrecent times, and a need therefore to develop areliable model for calculating 2 10 pb dates in siteswith varying rates of sediment accumulation.

    Considerable doubt still surrounds the precisenature of the processes by which 2 10 Pb is depositedin lake sediments, and

    for this reason2 10

    Pb datafrom sites with varying sediment accumulationrates is interpreted by different authors in differentways. Since these processes may well vary from siteto site it is unlikely that on e model will be universal-ly applicable. The purpose of this paper is to outlinethe principal assumptions used in 2 10 pb chronol-ogy, and to present techniques for assessing theconsistency of data with these assumptions.

    The processes by which 2 1 0Pb is delivered tocatchment surfaces have been described in detail

    elsewhere (e.g. Krishnaswamy & Lal, 1978). Theradium isotope 2 2 6 Ra (half-life 1622 yrs.) decays toyield the inert gas 22 2Rn. This in turn decays (with ahalf-life of 3.83 days) through a series of short-livedisotopes to 21 0 Pb (half-life 22.26 yrs.). A fraction ofthe 22 2 Rn atoms formed by 2 26 Ra decay in soilsescape from the soil particles into the interstices anddiffuse through the soil into the atmosphere wherethey decay to 2 1 0Pb. This is removed from the at-mosphere by rain, snow, or dry fallout, falling eith-er onto the land surface where it is trapped in sur-

    face soils (Benninger et al . 1975), or into lakes oroceans. 210 pb falling into lakes is scavenged fromthe lake waters by sediments, and deposited on thebed of the lake. Krishnaswamy & Lal (1978) haveestimated that the mean 2 1 0Pb flux onto the landsurface is about 0.45 pCi cm- z a -1. Local valuesof the mean 21 0 Pb flux are governed by local orregional meteorological factors, and range from0. 15 pC i cm -2 a- in Australia to 0.96 pC i cm- a I

    Hydrobiologia 103, 29 35 (1983). Dr W. Junk Publishers, The Hague. Printed in the Netherlands.

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    in Hokkaido, Japan.The 2 10 Pb activity of lake sediments has two

    components, a supported component Cs derivingfrom 2 22 Rn decay within the sediment column, andan unsupported (or excess) component C derivingfrom the atmospheric fallout of 21 0 Pb. C s can, formost purposes, be approximated by the 22 6Ra con-centration. In the absence of 2 10 Pb fallout, 2 10 Pband 22 6 Ra would be in radioactive equilibrium. C isdetermined by subtracting C s from the total

    2 10 Pbconcentration.

    The unsupported 2 10 Pb concentration in eachsediment layer declines with its age in accordancewith the usual radioactive decay law. This law canbe used to calculate the age of the sediment pro-vided that the initial unsupported 2 10 Pb concentra-

    tion when laid down on the bed of the lake can beestimated in some way.

    If the erosive processes in the catchment aresteady, and give rise to a constant rate of sedimentaccumulation, it is reasonable to suppose that everysediment layer will have the same initial unsupport-ed 2 10 Pb concentration. In this case the unsupport-ed 21 0 Pb concentration will decline exponentially

    with the cumulative dry mass of sediment. Whenthe unsupported 2 10 Pb concentration C is plottedon a logarithmic scale, the resulting 2 10 Pb profilewill be linear. The sediment accumulation rate canbe determined graphically from the mean slope ofthe profile, or analytically by using a least squaresfit procedure. In this model, sometimes referred toas the constant flux-constant sedimentation rate(cf:cs) model, the exact mechanism by which thesediment accumulated 2 10 Pb is immaterial.

    2 1 0 Pb chronology under varying sediment accumu-lation rates

    In many cases it is clear that rates of erosion and

    sedimentation have varied significantly during thepast 150 years. In this event the 2 10 Pb profile maybe expected to be non-linear. Many authors haveobserved such profiles. Figure I shows 2 10 Pb pro-files from Lough Erne in N. Ireland which are bothnon-linear and non-monotonic over depths of up to30 cm . Since changing accumulation rates may wellresult in variations in the initial 2 10 Pb concentra-

    wer L. Erne

    re SM 1

    lu-

    -?

    .

    a-

    0

    a

    C

    10 20 30 40 50 CDepth (cm)

    (b)Lower L. Erne

    Core FM 1

    In

    0I

    a

    a-

    c

    O1-cS0

    .0

    W6CL

    c

    lb 20 30 4b sbDepth (cm)

    60 70

    (c)

    Upper L. Erne

    Core FM 2

    10 20 30 40Depth (cm)

    Fig. i. Non-linear21 0

    Pb profiles from Lough Erne, N. Ireland (Oldfield et al. 1978).

    an (a)

    0(G'

    c0

    u

    i 1-

    0c

    o

    ri

    a

    Ra

    C01-n

    n n,

    50 60

    u- -- i/n lu

    uU U

    nnl n .i

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    tions of sediments, in order to construct a reliable2 1 0 Pb chronology it is necessary to understandmore precisely the processes by which sedimentparticles adsorb 2 10 Pb. The problem is furthercomplicated by the fact that non-linear profiles maybe caused by a number of other factors, includingmigration of 2 10 Pb through interstitial waters nearthe sediment water interface (Koide et al . 1973),mixing of near-surface sediments by physical (Petit,1974) or biological (Robbins et al. 1977) processes,post-depositional redistribution of sediments eitherdiscontinuously through slumping (Edgington &Robbins 1977) or more or less continuously bysediment erosion.

    There are essentially two models which are ma-thematically practicable for calculating 21 0Pb dates

    under varying sediment accumulation rates, theconstant rate of 2 10 Pb supply (c.r.s.) model and theconstant initial concentration (c.i.c.) model. Thephysical bases for these models are discussed inmore detail in Oldfield & Appleby (in press).

    The constant rate of supply (or constant flux)model assumes that there is a constant fallout of21 0Pb from the atmosphere to the lake waters re-sulting in a constant rate of supply of 2 10 Pb to thesediments irrespective of any variations which mayhave occurred in the sediment accumulation rate.

    This model was proposed by Krishnaswamy et al.(1971). In support of this model, Benninger et al.(1975) have estimated that, at least in some cases,> 99% of the 2 10 Pb deposited on the land surface istrapped in the soil layers. The dominant source ofthe 2 10 Pb in lake waters is then direct fallout ontothe lake surface. Studies of the residence time ofdissolved 2 1 0 Pb in lake waters (Schell 1977; Dur-ham & Joshi 1980) have shown that this 2 10 pb israpidly transferred from the water to particulates.

    If the assumptions of the c.r.s. model are satis-

    fied, it may be shown that the cumulative residualunsupported 2 10Pb, A, beneath sediments of age tvaries according to the formula:

    A = A(o)e - kt

    where A(o) is the total residual unsupported 2 10 Pbin the sediment column and k is the 2 1 0 Pb radioac-tive decay constant. A and A(o) are calculated bydirect numerical integration of the 2 1 0Pb profile.The age of sediments of depth x is then given by:

    1 A(o)t = - l n - -

    k A

    The sedimentation rate can be shown to be givendirectly by the formula (Appleby & Oldfield 1978):

    kAr = -

    C

    The 21 0 Pb supply rate is given by:

    P = kA(o)

    This procedure for calculating 2 10 Pb dates was firstoutlined by Goldberg (1963), and is se t out in detailin Appleby & Oldfield (1978), and Robbins (1978).

    The constant initial concentration (or constantspecific activity) model assumes that an increasedflux of sedimentary particles from the water co-lumn will remove proportionally increased amountsof 210Pb from the water to the sediments. Under theassumptions of this model sediments will have thesame initial unsupported 21 0 Pb concentration ir-respective of any variations in sediment accumula-tion rate.

    If the assumptions of the c.i.c. model are satis-fied, the unsupported 2 10 Pb concentration will vary

    with depth in accordance with the formula:

    C = C(o) e - k