Small anthropogenic landforms from past charcoal production control moisture dynamics and chemistry in northcentral Appalachian soils

S. Bayuzick, D. Guarin, A. Bonhage, F. Hirsch, D. R. Diefenbach, M. McDill, T. Raab, P. J. Drohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Throughout the northeastern United States (U.S.) and Europe, relict charcoal hearths (RCHs) are regularly being discovered in proximity to furnaces once used for the extraction of metal from ore or quick-lime production; charcoal produced in hearths was used as a furnace fuel. Given previous research has shown that topographic and subsurface disturbance can be great when a hearth is constructed, we hypothesize that hearth construction alters surface hydrology and soil chemistry in environments in and near hearths. We used a landscape classification process to identify 6758 hearths near furnaces at Greenwood and Pine Grove Furnace State Park, central and southcentral Pennsylvania, U.S. Two types of digital elevation model wetness indexes were used to quantify surface hydrology effects in and around hearths. Modeled wetness conditions were compared to field soil volumetric water content in RCHs near Greenwood Furnace State Park. Modeled wetness indexes indicate that RCH interiors are significantly wetter than RCH rim areas; RCHs are acting as a landscape moisture sink. Results also indicate that RCHs on slopes result in downslope drier conditions below RCHs. Field measured volumetric water content indicates that as distance from the center of the hearth increases, soil moisture significantly decreases. Geomorphic position was found to not be related to RCH wetness. Soil from RCHs, compared to nearby native soils, has significantly higher total C, a lower Mehlich 3 extractable acidity, higher Ca and P. No trend was evident with RCH soil chemistry and geomorphic position. The high frequency of RCH occurrence, in proximity to the furnace's RCHs supported, suggests that RCHs today could locally be an important niche for understory flora and fauna. Further research could explore how RCHs might be affecting surrounding plant populations and how within RCH patterns, especially on hillslopes, might represent a distinctly different scale of physical and chemical variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108379
StatePublished - Oct 15 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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