Observations on the palynology, petrography and geochemistry of the Western Kentucky number 4 coal bed

Cortland F. Eble, Stephen F. Greb, David A. Williams, James C. Hower

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Eight bench-column samples of the Western Kentucky Number 4 coal bed, collected from an area along the southern margin of the Western Kentucky Coal Field, were analyzed palynologically, petrographically, and geochemically to document both temporal and spatial variability among these parameters. The Western Kentucky Number 4 coal occurs near the top of the Tradewater Formation, is of Early Desmoinesian age, and is correlative with the lower part of the Allegheny Formation of the Appalachian Basin, and Late Bolsovian strata of western Europe. Palynologically, the coal is co-dominated by spores that were produced by lycopod trees (Lycospora and Granasporites medius) and tree ferns. Thin-walled tree fern spores (Punctatisporites minutus, P. minutus, P. rotundus) are more abundant than thick-walled forms (Laevigatosporites globosus, P. granifer). Calamitean spores (Calamospora and Laevigatosporites spp.) are locally abundant as is cordaitean pollen (Florinites). Small fern (Granulatisporites) and small lycopod spores (Densosporites, Cirratriradites, Endosporites and Anacanthotriletes spinosus) are present, but occur in minor amounts. Temporal changes in palynomorph composition occur, but are not uniform between columns. Spatial variability among columns is also evident. Petrographically, the coal is dominated by vitrinite macerals, with telinite and telocollinite generally occurring more commonly than desmocollinite and gelocollinite. Basal benches typically contain high percentages of vitrinite; middle benches usually contain higher percentages of liptinite and inertinite. In about half the studied columns, the terminal coal benches show a slight increase in vitrinite. In the study area, the petrography of the Western Kentucky Number 4 coal is more uniform than the palynology. Ash yields and total sulfur contents are temporally uniform in some columns, but variable in others. In the latter case, higher percentages of ash and sulfur occur at the base of the bed and decrease up to the middle of the bed. The terminal benches of these columns often, but not always, show slight increases in ash or sulfur. Both syngenetic and epigenetic forms of sulfur are present in the Western Kentucky Number 4 coal. The high vitrinite contents and moderate to high sulfur contents suggest that the Western Kentucky Number 4 paleomire was mainly planar and rheotrophic throughout its developmental history. Groundwaters carrying dissolved solutes may have helped neutralize the normally acidic interstitial peat waters allowing for the production of sulfide minerals. Several of the columns with high sulfur contents at the base of the bed occur in faulted areas. The faults could have promoted the flow of groundwaters through the peat, providing an increased dissolved load for acid mitigation and sulfide formation. The concentration of sulfur at the base of the bed may be a function of the peat/underclay contact enhancing sulfide formation. The clay layer may also have acted as an impermeable boundary for downward moving groundwaters, causing mainly lateral, rather than vertical movement along the base of the coal bed.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)121-139
Number of pages19
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Mar 1999


  • Coal
  • Palynology
  • Petrography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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