Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 55, Issue 2, pp 185–194 | Cite as

Spontaneous self-combustion of organic-rich lateglacial lake sediments after freeze-drying

  • Nadine DrägerEmail author
  • Achim Brauer
  • Brian Brademann
  • Rik Tjallingii
  • Michał Słowiński
  • Mirosław Błaszkiewicz
  • Norbert Schlaak
Original paper


We report and investigate for the first time spontaneous self-combustion of freeze-dried lacustrine sediments immediately after ventilation of the vacuum freeze dryer chamber. The smouldering and flameless combustion lasted for approximately 10–20 min and reached temperatures of 357 °C. Self-combustion mainly occurred in aluminium boxes containing sediment bars taken for thin section preparation. About 40 % of these samples were affected, most of them originated from the basal approximately 3-m-thick finely laminated lateglacial sediment interval. The combustion process caused disintegration of siderite to iron oxides (hematite and magnetite) and burning of organic matter to pyrogenic carbon leading to a lowering of total inorganic and organic carbon contents to 1 %. The total sulphur content of one combusted bulk sample did not change, but the alteration of sulphur contents in different sediment components suggests a redistribution of sulphur within the sediment. We assume that the self-combustion process was initiated by exothermic oxidation reactions, which were favoured by a combination of factors including the presence of abundant fine-grained iron sulphides in the organic-rich sediments. Self-combustion could be prevented by ventilating the vacuum chamber after freeze-drying with N2.


Spontaneous self-combustion Freeze-drying Iron sulphides Laminated sediment Thin section 



This study is a contribution to the Virtual Institute of Integrated Climate and Landscape Evolution (ICLEA; of the Helmholtz Association (Grant Number VH-VI-415) and is supported by Helmholtz infrastructure of the Terrestrial Environmental Observatory (TERENO) North-eastern Germany. We thank Sebastian Tyszkowski (Polish Academy of Science), Mateusz Kramkowski (GFZ Potsdam) and Slawomir Kowalski (LBGR Brandenburg) for their help with coring and field work. Gabriele Arnold and Dieter Berger (both at GFZ Potsdam) prepared thin sections. We also thank Anja Schleicher for XRD analyses, Oona Appelt for microprobe analyses and Andreas Hendrich for graphical support (all at GFZ Potsdam). We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and suggestions that significantly improved this paper.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Section 5.2 – Climate Dynamics and Landscape EvolutionGFZ German Research Centre for GeosciencesPotsdamGermany
  2. 2.Department of Environmental Resources and Geohazards, Institute of Geography and Spatial OrganizationPolish Academy of SciencesToruńPoland
  3. 3.State Authority of Mining, Geology and Resources BrandenburgCottbusGermany

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