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Boron isotope fractionation in combusted plants during wildfires
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  • Shawn Lu,
  • Anthony Dosseto,
  • Damien Lemarchand,
  • Zoe Thomas,
  • Angus Walton
Shawn Lu

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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Anthony Dosseto
Damien Lemarchand
Zoe Thomas
Angus Walton


In light of climate change, wildfires are concurrently becoming more frequent and devastating worldwide. Though we have a good understanding of fire frequency changes in the past using charcoal analysis, records of the characteristics of these fires, such as fire severity, are lacking. This limits our ability to model how fire severity responds to climate change. Boron isotopes in clay minerals show promise as a novel fire severity proxy, where increased 𝛿11B is correlated with higher fire severity. Through reacting boron leached from experimentally combusted plants with clays, we determine that the observed correlation with fire severity is likely caused by input of isotopically heavier boron from combusted leaves. In contrast, combusted barks lower the 𝛿11B of clays upon reaction. Despite the different results, in both experiments with barks and leaves, similar boron isotope fractionation is observed during boron adsorption onto clays, where the lighter 10B is preferentially adsorbed. Therefore, the different results are likely caused by the different boron isotope composition of leaves and barks, where leaves have a much higher 𝛿11B (~30 ‰) than bark (~9 ‰). Combustion temperature can also affect the 𝛿11B of clays: changes to the 𝛿11B of clays were observed only when reacting with bark combusted at >300 °C, or with leaves combusted at >550 °C. This could be because more boron can be leached into solution from materials combusted at higher temperatures, which in turn results in greater adsorption onto clays during reactions. Clays have higher 𝛿11B in soils affected by high severity fires that consume tree crowns, because these fires combust more leaves that then deposit their isotopically heavier boron content into the soil. This relationship could help complete our fire record and improve our ability to predict future fire characteristics.
01 Feb 2023Submitted to AGU Fall Meeting 2022
01 Feb 2023Published in AGU Fall Meeting 2022