Tephra layers can form useful age-equivalent stratigraphic markers for correlating palaeoenvironmental sequences and they provide information about the spatio-temporal nature of past volcanic ash fall events. The use of microscopic ‘cryptotephra’ layers has both increased the stratigraphic resolution of tephra sequences in proximal areas and extended the distal application of tephrochronology to regions of the world situated far from volcanoes. Effective tephrochronology requires the discrimination between in situ tephra deposited directly from volcanic plumes and tephras that have been remobilised since their initial deposition. We present tephrostratigraphic and glass chemistry data from two proximal peat profiles (one lowland, one upland) from the Shetland Islands, UK. Both profiles contain the Hekla-Selsund tephra (deposited c. 1800–1750 cal. BC), whilst the Hekla 4 ash (c. 2395–2279 cal. BC) is present in the upland record. Overlying the Hekla-Selsund tephra are a number of distinct peaks in tephra shard abundance. The geochemistry of these layers shows that they represent re-working of the Hekla 4 and Hekla-Selsund layers rather than primary air-fall deposits. Pollen analysis of the peat sequences illustrates that these re-deposited tephra layers are coincident with a rise in heather-dominated vegetation communities (heath and/or moorland) and a subsequent intensification of burning in the landscape. We suggest that burning caused increased erosion of peats resulting in the remobilisation of tephra shards. The study demonstrates both the need for caution and the opportunities created when applying tephrochronologies in regions heavily affected by past human activity that contain both reworked tephra layers and in situ fallout.
- Shetland Islands