Data from 291 small lakes and mires in eastern North America provide information on the natural variability of rates of sediment accumulation in these environments over the last 18,000 yr. Accumulation rates were calculated by linear interpolation between radiocarbon and biostratigraphic dates from sediment cores taken for pollen analysis. Within the data set, the rates were lognormally distributed with a mean accumulation rate of 91 cm/103 yr, and a range from less than 1 to over 3500 cm/103 yr. The accumulation rate data were divided into five subsets that were temporally or spatially distinct and therefore represent different geomorphic and climatic conditions at the time of deposition. Sediments deposited in basins north of 50°N, south of 40°N, and before 10,000 yr B.P. accumulated at much slower rates than sediments accumulating in midlatitude basins (between 40° and 50°N) between 10,000 and 330 yr B.P. Sediment accumulation over the last 330 yr has, on average, been at rates four to five times faster than any time previously. Inorganic sediments that could be radiocarbon-dated have accumulated at significantly lower rates than organic sediments, reflecting differences in depositional processes. For midlatitude basins during the Holocene, the most likely rate of continuous sediment accumulation within our data set is 65 cm/103 yr. Rates below 10 cm/103 yr are likely to be associated with nonconstant processes of sediment accumulation.
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