EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in speleothems.

Julia Homann1, Sebastian Breitenbach2, Stacy Carolin3, David Hodell3, Jessica Oster4, Cameron de Wet4, and Thorsten Hoffmann1
Julia Homann et al.
  • 1Department of Chemistry, Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany (
  • 2Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK
  • 3Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • 4Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

Secondary mineral deposits in caves, such as stalagmites, constitute valuable paleoclimate archives because they are largely protected from degradation by stable in-cave conditions and can be precisely dated In addition to established climate proxies such as stable isotopes and trace elements, organic proxies have become increasingly attractive in recent years for the study of paleo vegetation, wildfires, and hydrodynamics. [1]

Biomass burning events are major sources of atmospheric particulate matter that influences global and local climate. [2] Investigating fire proxies in paleoclimate archives may therefore help determine the interactions of climate, hydrology, and fire activity.

Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are organic molecules made up of two or more fused aromatic rings. They stem from the incomplete combustion of organic matter. Their persistence in the environment makes them useful for the reconstruction of fire events from paleoenvironmental archives like sediments, peat, ice cores, and soils. [3-6] Their presence has also been reported in speleothems, however, only a limited range of PAHs seem to be transported into the cave and subsequently preserved in speleothem carbonate. [7, 8]

We present a new sample preparation method for the extraction of PAHs from speleothem and the subsequent extraction of levoglucosan, an anhydrosugar derived from the combustion of cellulose that also constitutes a marker for biomass burning. We apply this method to speleothems from Cenote Ch'en Mul, Mayapan, on the Yucátan peninsula, and White Moon Cave, California, to investigate the relationship between PAHs and levoglucosan. Such tandem approach will deepen our understanding of paleo-fire dynamics and strengthen proxy-based reconstructions.

[1] A. Blyth et al. Quat. Sci. Rev. 149 (2016) 1-17 [2] P. Yao et al. J. of Glaciology 59 (2013) 599-611 [3] Tan et al. Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 560 (2020) 110015 [4] Argiriadis et al. Microchem. J. 156 (2020) 104821 [5] Vecchiato et al. Sci. Rep. (2020) 10:10661 [6] Chen et al. ACS Earth Space Chem. 2018, 2, 1262−1270 [7] Argiriadis et al. Anal. Chem. 2019, 91, 7007−7011 [8] Perrette et al. Chem. Geol. 251 (2008) 67–76

How to cite: Homann, J., Breitenbach, S., Carolin, S., Hodell, D., Oster, J., de Wet, C., and Hoffmann, T.: Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) in speleothems., EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-1735,, 2023.

Supplementary materials

Supplementary material file