Our measurements of stable isotope compositions of CO2 issuing from vents produced by naturally burning coal indicate that the coal is oxidized through a kinetic process in which groundwater is the oxidizing agent. The CO2 produced by the oxidation of the coal is extremely depleted in 13C relative to normal atmospheric CO2. The change in the ??13C value of atmospheric CO2 near the vents resulting from the burning coal was not recorded in tree rings from red cedars, but the ??13C values of some C3 and C4 type plants collected from within the area were greatly affected. Our results indicate that the ??13C values of some species of plants may be sensitive indicators of changes in the carbon isotopic composition of atmospheric CO2. ?? 1984 Nature Publishing Group.