Stable isotopes of organic carbon, palynology, and petrography of a thick low-rank Miocene coal within the Mile Basin, Yunnan Province, China: implications for palaeoclimate and sedimentary conditions

Jingjing Liu, Shifeng Dai, James C. Hower, Tim A. Moore, Ofentse M. Moroeng, Victor P. Nechaev, Tatiana I. Petrenko, David French, Ian T. Graham, Xiaolin Song

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15 Scopus citations


Coal contains detailed long-term records of contemporaneous environment, climate, and subsequent diagenetic processes. Stable isotopes of carbon, petrological, palynological, and mineralogical analyses were carried out on a 28 m thick low-rank Miocene coal seam from the Mile Basin, Yunnan Province, China for the purpose of deciphering the palaeoclimate and sedimentary conditions during peat deposition. The coal is characterized by both pale and dark lithotypes. Palynological analyses show that both lithotypes are dominated by angiosperms, which is interpreted to indicate a moderately warm climate. The absence of Fagus and Taxodiaceae pollen suggests that there may have been dry periods during peat accumulation; in general, both Fagus and Taxodiaceae require a constant wet environment in order to proliferate. Organic petrography, δ13C, and gypsum concentrations corroborate that there were alternating drier and wetter periods within the palaeomire during peat accumulation. The fine-scale variability in the δ13C signature appears to be controlled by plant type. Angiosperm/gymnosperm ratios and Vegetation Index are directly correlated with δ13C isotopic values. Plant type, however, seems to be proximally controlled by water level. Angiosperms were more dominant during times of lower water table or less moist conditions, interpreted to correspond to less negative values of δ13C. The correlation of greater concentrations of gypsum with less negative δ13C values also supports drier conditions. However, in addition to the fine-scale variability, four larger scale cycles are defined based on less negative δ13C values. A less negative δ13C isotopic signature demarcates the top of each of these cycles, which represent spikes of lower water table and/or drier conditions. In addition, a general correlation of the δ13C variations in the studied coal seam with atmospheric CO2 suggests that the atmosphere also had a significant influence on peat formation in the Mile Basin. Although the Mile Basin palaeomire accumulated over a long time, an integrated approach to its analysis has demonstrated considerable variation in palaeoclimate. Changes in wetness/dryness had a direct effect on the ecological composition of the palaeomire. These floral changes would not have only been restricted to the palaeomire but most likely had a regional influence. Thus, detailed analysis of coals can yield useful, insightful and practical knowledge on past regional palaeoenvironmental conditions, which can then be placed within a global context.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104103
JournalOrganic Geochemistry
StatePublished - Nov 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Nos. 41902164 , 41672151 , and U1810202 ) and the 111 Project (No. B17042 ). The authors give great thanks to Dr. Baruch F. Spiro and Mr. Jianpeng Wei for their assistance during field work and sample collection. The authors would like to thank Dr. John K. Volkman and two anonymous reviewers for their careful reviews and detailed comments on the manuscript.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s)


  • Climatic fluctuation
  • Coal
  • Coal petrography
  • Depositional environment
  • Palynology
  • Stable isotope of organic carbon

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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