Geologic controls on thermal maturity patterns in Pennsylvanian coal-bearing rocks in the Appalachian basin

Leslie F. Ruppert, James C. Hower, Robert T. Ryder, Jeffrey R. Levine, Michael H. Trippi, William C. Grady

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


Thermal maturation patterns of Pennsylvanian strata in the Appalachian basin were determined by compiling and contouring published and unpublished vitrinite reflectance (VR) measurements. VR isograd values range from 0.6% in eastern Ohio and eastern Kentucky (western side of the East Kentucky coal field) to greater than 5.5% in eastern Pennsylvania (Southern Anthracite field, Schuylkill County), corresponding to ASTM coal rank classes of high volatile C bituminous to meta-anthracite. VR isograds show that thermal maturity of Pennsylvanian coals generally increases from west to east across the basin. The isograds patterns, which are indicative of maximum temperatures during burial, can be explained by variations in paleodepth of burial, paleogeothermal gradient, or a combination of both. However, there are at least four areas of unusually high-rank coal in the Appalachian basin that depart from the regional trends and are difficult to explain by depth of burial alone: 1) a west-northwestward salient centered in southwestern Pennsylvania; 2) an elliptically-shaped, northeast-trending area centered in southern West Virginia and western Virginia; 3) the eastern part of Black Warrior coal field, Alabama; and 4) the Pennsylvania Anthracite region, in eastern Pennsylvania. High-rank excursions in southwest Pennsylvania, the Black Warrior coal field, and the Pennsylvania Anthracite region are interpreted here to represent areas of higher paleo-heat flow related to syntectonic movement of hot fluids towards the foreland, associated with Alleghanian deformation. In addition to higher heat flow from fluids, the Pennsylvania Anthracite region also experienced greater depth of burial. The high-rank excursion in southwest Virginia was probably primarily controlled by overburden thickness, but may also have been influenced by higher geothermal gradients.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)169-181
Number of pages13
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2010


  • Anthracite
  • Appalachian basin
  • Black Warrior coal field
  • Burial depth
  • Coalbed methane
  • Fluid flow
  • Isograds
  • Oil shale
  • Thermal maturation maps
  • Vitrinite reflectance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


Dive into the research topics of 'Geologic controls on thermal maturity patterns in Pennsylvanian coal-bearing rocks in the Appalachian basin'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this