Field studies in Hawaii aimed at providing a radiocarbon-based chronology of prehistoric eruptive activity have led to a good understanding of the processes that govern the formation and preservation of charcoal beneath basaltic lava flows. Charcoal formation is a rate-dependent process controlled primarily by temperature and duration of heating, as well as by moisture content, density, and size of original woody material. Charcoal will form wherever wood buried by lava is raised to sufficiently high temperatures, but owing to the availability of oxygen it is commonly burned to ash soon after formation. Wherever oxygen circulation is sufficiently restricted, charcoal will be preserved, but where atmospheric oxygen circulates freely, charcoal will only be preserved at a lower temperature, below that required for charcoal ignition or catalytic oxidation. These factors cause carbonized wood, especially that derived from living roots, to be commonly preserved beneath all parts of pahoehoe flows (where oxygen circulation is restricted), but only under margins of aa. Practical guidelines are given for the recovery of datable charcoal beneath pahoehoe and aa. Although based on Hawaiian basaltic flows, the guidelines should be applicable to other areas. -Authors
Additional publication details
Recovery of datable charcoal beneath young lavas: lessons from Hawaii.