Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 101–110

Loss on ignition as a method for estimating organic and carbonate content in sediments: reproducibility and comparability of results


  • Oliver Heiri
    • Geobotanical InstituteUniversity of Bern
  • André F. Lotter
    • Geobotanical InstituteUniversity of Bern
    • Swiss Federal Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (EAWAG)
  • Gerry Lemcke
    • Swiss Federal Institute of Environmental Science and Technology (EAWAG)
    • Schweizerische Rückversicherung

DOI: 10.1023/A:1008119611481

Cite this article as:
Heiri, O., Lotter, A.F. & Lemcke, G. Journal of Paleolimnology (2001) 25: 101. doi:10.1023/A:1008119611481


Five test runs were performed to assess possible bias when performing the loss on ignition (LOI) method to estimate organic matter and carbonate content of lake sediments. An accurate and stable weight loss was achieved after 2 h of burning pure CaCO3 at 950 °C, whereas LOI of pure graphite at 530 °C showed a direct relation to sample size and exposure time, with only 40-70% of the possible weight loss reached after 2 h of exposure and smaller samples losing weight faster than larger ones. Experiments with a standardised lake sediment revealed a strong initial weight loss at 550 °C, but samples continued to lose weight at a slow rate at exposure of up to 64 h, which was likely the effect of loss of volatile salts, structural water of clay minerals or metal oxides, or of inorganic carbon after the initial burning of organic matter. A further test-run revealed that at 550 °C samples in the centre of the furnace lost more weight than marginal samples. At 950 °C this pattern was still apparent but the differences became negligible. Again, LOI was dependent on sample size.

An analytical LOI quality control experiment including ten different laboratories was carried out using each laboratory's own LOI procedure as well as a standardised LOI procedure to analyse three different sediments. The range of LOI values between laboratories measured at 550 °C was generally larger when each laboratory used its own method than when using the standard method. This was similar for 950 °C, although the range of values tended to be smaller. The within-laboratory range of LOI measurements for a given sediment was generally small. Comparisons of the results of the individual and the standardised method suggest that there is a laboratory-specific pattern in the results, probably due to differences in laboratory equipment and/or handling that could not be eliminated by standardising the LOI procedure.

Factors such as sample size, exposure time, position of samples in the furnace and the laboratory measuring affected LOI results, with LOI at 550 °C being more susceptible to these factors than LOI at 950 °C. We, therefore, recommend analysts to be consistent in the LOI method used in relation to the ignition temperatures, exposure times, and the sample size and to include information on these three parameters when referring to the method.

loss on ignitionlake sedimentcarbonateorganic matterquality control
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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001