The successful application of forensic geology to contamination studies involving natural systems requires identification of appropriate endmembers and an understanding of the geologic setting and processes affecting the systems. Studies attempting to delineate the background, or natural, source for hydrocarbon contamination in Gulf of Alaska (GOA) benthic sediments have invoked a number of potential sources, including seep oils, source rocks, and coal. Oil seeps have subsequently been questioned as significant sources of hydrocarbons present in benthic sediments of the GOA in part because the pattern of relative polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) abundance characteristic of benthic GOA sediments is inconsistent with patterns typical of weathered seep oils. Likewise, native coal has been dismissed in part because ratios of labile hydrocarbons to total organic carbon (e.g. PAH:TOC) for Bering River coal field (BRCF) sources are too low - i.e. the coals are over mature - to be consistent with GOA sediments. We present evidence here that native coal may have been prematurely dismissed, because BRCF coals do not adequately represent the geochemical signatures of coals elsewhere in the Kulthieth Formation. Contrary to previous thought, Kulthieth Formation coals east of the BRCF have much higher PAH: TOC ratios, and the patterns of labile hydrocarbons in these low thermal maturity coals suggest a possible genetic relationship between Kulthieth Formation coals and nearby oil seeps on the Sullivan anticline. Analyses of low-maturity Kulthieth Formation coal indicate the low maturity coal is a significant source of PAH. Source apportionment models that neglect this source will underestimate the contribution of native coals to the regional background hydrocarbon signature. ?? Published by Elsevier Science Ltd. on behalf of AEHS.
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Low-maturity Kulthieth Formation coal: A possible source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in benthic sediment of the northern Gulf of Alaska