Plants, Coal, and Climate in the Pennslvanian of the Central Appalachians

  1. C. Blaine Cecil,
  2. Cortland Eble,
  3. C. Blaine Cecil,
  4. James C. Cobb,
  5. Donald R. Chestnut Jr.,
  6. Heinz Damberger and
  7. Kenneth J. Englund
  1. Richard B. Winston1 and
  2. Ronald W. Stanton2

Published Online: 15 MAR 2013

DOI: 10.1029/FT143p0118

Carboniferous Geology of the Eastern United States

Carboniferous Geology of the Eastern United States

How to Cite

Winston, R. B. and Stanton, R. W. (1989) Plants, Coal, and Climate in the Pennslvanian of the Central Appalachians, in Carboniferous Geology of the Eastern United States (eds C. B. Cecil, C. Eble, C. B. Cecil, J. C. Cobb, D. R. Chestnut, H. Damberger and K. J. Englund), American Geophysical Union, Washington, D. C.. doi: 10.1029/FT143p0118

Author Information

  1. 1

    Geological Survey of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama

  2. 2

    U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 MAR 2013
  2. Published Print: 1 JAN 1989

ISBN Information

Print ISBN: 9780875906478

Online ISBN: 9781118667316

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Keywords:

  • Calamiteans;
  • Climate;
  • Coal;
  • Doming and plant succession;
  • Lycopods;
  • Plants;
  • Rootlets

Summary

The variation of plant abundances in Pennsylvanian coal beds in the central Appalachian basin correspond to inferred climatic changes during the Pennsylvanian Period. Lycopods comprise more than 50 percent of the coal in the Lower Pennsylvanian except in coal that is split or thin. In the lower Middle Pennsylvanian, lycopods comprise 40–45 percent of the coal. At the base of the upper Middle Pennsylvanian, lycopods comprise more than 50 percent of the coal. Lycopod abundance decreases up-section to a low of 35 percent near the top of the Middle Pennsylvanian. Lycopods comprise 11 percent of the coal (one sample in this study) from the Upper Pennsylvanian. The major peat-contributing lycopods are interpreted to have favored wet conditions.

As inferred from lycopod abundance, the climate was moist in the Early Pennsylvanian but became less moist during the early part of the Middle Pennsylvanian. The climate became moist during the middle of the Middle Pennsylvanian and gradually became less moist in the later part of the Middle Pennsylvanian. During the early part of the Late Pennsylvanian, the climate was much drier than previously. No direct comparison of the climate of the later part of the Late Pennsylvanian to Early and Middle Pennsylvanian can be made with these data except that the resumption of widespread coal formation indicates that climate was somewhat wetter than it had been in the early Late Pennsylvanian.

The abundances of ferns, calamiteans, pteridosperms and cordaiteans were also determined in profiles of coal beds but their variations in abundance appear to be more affected by local conditions. In 9 of 18 samples, lycopods show a statistically-significant decline upward within coal beds whereas in the other 9 samples, no statistically significant trends in lycopod abundance were observed. An upwards decline in lycopod abundance in a coal bed would be expected in a bed which formed from a domed peat swamp. The results of this study indicate that peat-dome formation was an important process in Pennsylvanian-age peat swamps.