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A re-examination of the three most prominent Holocene tephra deposits in western Canada: Bridge River, Mount St. Helens Yn and Mazama

March 22, 2019

Volcanic ash deposits (tephra) in western Canada are instrumental in providing independent chronologic control for many archaeological and paleoenvironmental sites. In Alberta, tephra are a key chronologic tool in a region where radiocarbon dates are often unreliable because of the prevalence of carbonate-rich bedrock and other “old carbon” sources, such as coal. However, many studies using tephra for age control, particularly archaeological projects, identify tephra simply through field characteristics or light microscopy. In both Alberta and British Columbia, many radiocarbon dates that were used to date key tephra deposits were bulk conventional ages on peat and lake sediments, which are not always reliable. These factors have led to uncertainty in the age and number of Bridge River and Mount St. Helens (MSH) set Y tephra present in the region and incomplete distribution maps. New major-element geochemical analyses from archaeological and sedimentary sites across south-central Alberta, complemented by new analyses of tephra from British Columbia and Saskatchewan, refine the distribution of the Bridge River, MSH Yn and Mazama tephra. New geochemical data, radiocarbon dates, and a detailed overview of proximal MSH set Y stratigraphy and geochemistry show that only one MSH layer, Yn, is present in this region, rather than two MSH set Y tephra as previously suggested. Additionally, re-assessment of age data combined with new geochemical analyses confirm that there is also only one Bridge River tephra. A Bayesian modelled age estimate is determined for MSH Yn based on new AMS dates on the tephra and vetted existing conventional ages, providing a revised age estimate for MSH Yn of 3805–3535 cal BP (mean of 3660 cal BP).

Citation Information

Publication Year 2019
Title A re-examination of the three most prominent Holocene tephra deposits in western Canada: Bridge River, Mount St. Helens Yn and Mazama
DOI 10.1016/j.quaint.2019.03.017
Authors Britta J.L. Jensen, Alwynne B. Beaudoin, Michael A. Clynne, Jordan Harvey, James W. Vallance
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Quaternary International
Series Number
Index ID 70215994
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Volcano Science Center