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The geology of selected peat-forming environments in temperate and tropical latitudes

International Journal of Coal Geology

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Abstract

We studied peat in several geologic and climatic settings: (1) a glaciated terrain in cold-temperate Maine and Minnesota, U.S.A.; (2) an island in a temperate maritime climate in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Maine, U.S.A., where sea level is rising rapidly and changing the environment of peat accumulation; (3) swamps along the warm-temperate U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains, where sea level has changed often, thus creating sites for accumulation; and (4) in a tropical climate along the coast of Sarawak, Malaysia, and the delta of the Batang Hari River, Sumatra, Indonesia (Figs. 1 and 2). With the exception of the deposits on the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains, most of the deposits described are domed bogs in which peat accumulation continued above the surface of the surrounding soil. The bogs of the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains have almost level surfaces. All domed bogs are not entirely ombrotrophic (watered only from precipitation); multidomed bogs that rise from irregular or hilly surfaces may be crossed by streams that supply water to the bogs. The geologic processes or organic sedimentation, namely terrestrialization and paludification, are similar in all peat deposits considered here. Differences in geomorphology affecting the quantity and that quality of peat that has ash contents of less than 25%, which are desirable for commercial purposes, depend chiefly on: (1) high humidity, which is favorable to luxuriant growth of peat-forming vegetation; (2) a depositional setting that permits extensive accumulation relatively free from inorganic contamination from sea water and streams and from dust and volcanic ash; and (3) a stable regional water table that controls the rate of decomposition under aerobic conditions and protects the deposit against the ravages of fire. Differences in peat textures are due to the type of vegetation and to the degree of decomposition. The rate of decomposition is largely the result of the amount of oxidation and aerobic microbial activity. Stratigraphic distribution of various textures and amounts of inorganic components within a peat deposit is largely determined by the vertical positions occupied by peat-forming environments, such as pond, marsh, swamp and heath where vegetation accumulated, and the depth to zones of unoxygenated water. Peat also differs in the rate of accumulation. On the basis of carbon-14 dating, an estimated 8 m of peat in the tropical Batang Hari River deposit in Sumatra has been accumulating at the rate of about 1.5 m/1,000 yr, whereas peat in the cold-temperate deposit in Maine has been accumulating at the rate of 0.66 m/1,000 yr. Accumulation rates in domed deposits such as these are affected not only by factors controlling volume of biomass and aerobic decay but also by stream erosion and fires that remove peat. Such disconformities (see Fig. 2) within the deposit may be recognized by sudden vertical changes in degree of decomposition and/or the presence of charcoal. The trace-element content of peat deposits is affected by the environments of their settings. Samples of peat that have an ash content of less than 25% dry weight and that are from small, almost level swamp deposits along the Atlantic Coastal Plain of North Carolina were compared with similar samples from small domed bogs in Maine, a glaciated area. Samples from Nort Carolina, which are from deposits in thick fluvial and nearshore marine sediments far from the bedrock source, are generally higher in Ti, Cr and Pb. The Maine samples from deposits in glacial drift close to the bedrock source contain more Zn, Mn, P, Ca, Na and Fe. The kind and amount of trace elements within the deposits appear to relate largely to depositional setting, to kinds of bedrock source, and to the modes of transportation from source to peat swamp. Trace-element concentrations in the extensive Sumatra peat deposit, which represents a potentially commercial coal bed, are similar to those found in Appalachian c

Additional Publication Details

Publication type:
Article
Publication Subtype:
Journal Article
Title:
The geology of selected peat-forming environments in temperate and tropical latitudes
Series title:
International Journal of Coal Geology
Volume
16
Issue:
1-3
Year Published:
1990
Language:
English
Larger Work Type:
Article
Larger Work Subtype:
Journal Article
Larger Work Title:
International Journal of Coal Geology
First page:
127
Last page:
130
Number of Pages:
4