Technical Note: n-Alkane lipid biomarkers in loess: Post-sedimentary or syn-sedimentary?

M. Zech, S. Kreutzer, T. Goslar, S. Meszner, T. Krause, D. Faust, M. Fuchs

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There is an ongoing discussion whether n-alkane biomarkers – and organic matter (OM) from loess in general – reflect a syn-sedimentary paleoenvironmental and paleoclimate signal or whether they are significantly a post-sedimentary feature contaminated by root-derived OM. We present first radiocarbon data for the n-alkane fraction of lipid extracts and for the first time luminescence ages for the Middle to Late Weichselian loess-paleosol sequence of Gleina in Saxony, Germany. Comparison of these biomarker ages with sedimentation ages as assessed by optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating shows that one n-alkane sample features a syn-sedimentary age (14C: 29.2 ± 1.4 kyr cal BP versus OSL: 27.3 ± 3.0 kyr). By contrast, the 14C ages derived from the other n-alkane samples are clearly younger (20.3 ± 0.7 kyr cal BP, 22.1 ± 0.7 kyr cal BP and 29.8 ± 1.4 kyr cal BP) than the corresponding OSL ages (26.6 ± 3.1 kyr, 32.0 ± 3.5 kyr and 45.6 ± 5.3 kyr). This finding suggests that a post-sedimentary n-alkane contamination presumably by roots has occurred.

In order to estimate the post-sedimentary n-alkane contamination more quantitatively, we applied a 14C mass balance calculation based on the measured pMC (percent modern carbon) values, the calculated syn-sedimentary pMC values and pMC values suspected to reflect likely time points of post-sedimentary contamination (current, modern, 3 kyr, 6 kyr and 9 kyr). Accordingly, current and modern root-contamination would account for up to 7%, a 3 kyr old root-contamination for up to 10%, and an Early and Middle Holocene root-contamination for up to 20% of the total sedimentary n-alkane pool.

We acknowledge and encourage that these first radiocarbon results need further confirmation both from other loess-paleosol sequences and for different biomarkers, e.g. carboxylic acids or alcohols as further lipid biomarkers.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9875-9896
Number of pages22
JournalBiogeosciences Discussions
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 31 Jul 2012
Externally publishedYes


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