Journal of Paleolimnology

, Volume 21, Issue 3, pp 345–372

Lacustrine Sedimentary Organic Matter Records of Late Quaternary Paleoclimates

  • Philip A. Meyers
  • Elisabeth Lallier-vergés

DOI: 10.1023/A:1008073732192

Cite this article as:
Meyers, P.A. & Lallier-vergés, E. Journal of Paleolimnology (1999) 21: 345. doi:10.1023/A:1008073732192


Identification of the sources of organic matter in sedimentary records provides important paleolimnologic information. As the types and abundances of plant life in and around lakes change, the composition and amount of organic matter delivered to lake sediments changes. Despite the extensive early diagenetic losses of organic matter in general and of some of its important biomarker compounds in particular, bulk identifiers of organic matter sources appear to undergo minimal alteration after sedimentation. Age-related changes in the elemental, isotopic, and petrographic compositions of bulk sedimentary organic matter therefore preserve evidence of past environmental changes.

We review different bulk organic matter proxies of climate change in tropical and temperate sedimentary records ranging in age from 10-500 ka. Times of wetter climate result in enhanced algal productivity in lakes as a consequence of greater wash-in of soil nutrients, and these periods are recorded as elevated Rock-Eval hydrogen indices, lowered organic C/N ratios, less negative organic δ13C values, and increased organic carbon mass accumulation rates. Lowering of lake water levels, which typically depresses algal productivity, can also cause an apparent increase in organic carbon mass accumulation rates through suspension of sediments from lake margins and redeposition in deeper basins. Alternations between C3 and C4 watershed plants accompany climate changes such as glacial/interglacial transitions and wet/dry cycles, and these changes in land-plant types are evident in δ13C values of organic matter in lake sediments. Changes in climate-driven hydrologic balances of lakes are recorded in δD values of sedimentary organic matter. Visual microscopic examination of organic matter detritus is particularly useful in identifying changes in bulk organic matter delivery to lake sediments and therefore is important as an indicator of climate changes.

carbon isotyopes nitrogen isotopes hydrogen isotopes Rock-Eval analysis C/N ratios pollen organic carbon mass accumulation rates organic petrography 

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • Philip A. Meyers
    • 1
  • Elisabeth Lallier-vergés
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Geological Sciences and Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic SciencesThe University of MichiganAnn ArborUSA
  2. 2.URA 724 - FW 09 CNRS. Laboratoire de Géologie de la Matiére OrganiqueUniversité d'OrléansOrléans Cedex 2France

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