Dredge-up refers to a period in the evolution of a star where a surface convection zone extends down to the layers where material has undergone nuclear fusion. As a result, the fusion products are mixed into the outer layers of the stellar atmosphere where they can appear in the spectrum of the star.

The first dredge-up occurs when a main sequence star enters the red giant branch (RGB). As a result of the convective mixing, the outer atmosphere will display the spectral signature of hydrogen fusion: the 12C/13C and C/N ratios are lowered, and the surface abundances of lithium and beryllium may be reduced.

The second dredge-up occurs in stars with 4 – 8 solar masses of material. When helium fusion comes to an end at the core, convection mixes the products of the CNO cycle.[1] This second dredge-up results in an increase in the surface abundance of 4He and 14N, while the amount of 12C and 16O decreases.[2]

The third dredge-up occurs after a star enters the asymptotic giant branch (AGB) and a flash occurs along a helium burning shell. This dredge-up causes helium, carbon and the s-process products to be brought to the surface. The result is an increase in the abundance of carbon relative to oxygen, which can create a carbon star.[2]

The names of the dredge-ups are set by the evolutionary and structural state of the star in which each occurs, not by the sequence experienced by the star. As a result, lower-mass stars experience the first and third dredge-ups in their evolution but not the second.