In the central Appalachian basin, at least two major climate changes affected sedimentation during the late Paleozoic. Stratigraphically, these two changes are indicated by the distribution of coal beds, the variation in coal quality, and the variation in rock lithologies. In latest Mississippian or earliest Pennsylvanian time, the climate changed from dry-seasonal tropical to ever-wet (equable) tropical. The equable climate prevailed into the Middle Pennsylvanian, influencing the morphology and geochemistry in peat-forming environments. Many of the peat deposits, which formed under the equable climate, were probably domed (raised bogs); low concentrations of dissolved solids in peat formation water resulted in low buffering capacity. Organic acids caused acidic (pH < 4), antiseptic conditions that resulted in intense leaching of mineral matter, minimal degradation of organic matter, and low-ash and low-sulfur peat deposits; the resulting coal beds are also low in ash and sulfur. Associated rocks are noncalcareous and consist of sequences of interbedded shale, siltstone, and sandstone including quartz arenite. Another climate change occurred in late Middle Pennsylvanian time when evapopation periodically exceeded rainfall resulting in an increase of both dissolved solids and pH (4 to ??? 7) in surface and near-surface water. Throughout the remainder of the Pennsylvanian, the surfaces of peat deposits were probably planar (not domed); water in peat-forming and other depositional environments became more nearly neutral. The coal beds derived from these peats are highly variable in both ash and sulfur contents. Drier or more seasonal climates are also indicated by sequences of (1) calcareous sandstone and shale, (2) nonmarine limestone that shows shallow-water and subaerial exposure features, and (3) calcareous paleosols that have caliche characteristics. Our data and observations indicate that physical depositional environment models for the origin of coal do not adequately explain variations in mineral matter content and composition in commercial quality coal beds in the central Appalachian basin. Stratigraphic variation in mineral matter in coal beds, and in syngenetic and early diagenetic minerals in rocks associated with the coal beds, appears to be better explained by changes in geochemical conditions of nonmarine sedimentation. Paleoclimate was a principle control on these geochemical conditions. ?? 1986.
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Paleoclimate controls on late paleozoic sedimentation and peat formation in the central appalachian basin (U.S.A.)