The Buller Coalfield on the West Coast of the South Island, New Zealand, contains the Eocene Brunner Coal Measures. The coal measures unconformably overlie Paleozoic-Cretaceous basement rocks and are conformably overlain by, and laterally interfinger with, the Eocene marine Kaiata Formation. This study examines the lithofacies frameworks of the coal measures in order to interpret their depositional environments. The lower part of the coal measures is dominated by conglomeratic lithofacies that rest on a basal erosional surface and thicken in paleovalleys incised into an undulating peneplain surface. These lithofacies are overlain by sandstone, mudstone and organic-rich lithofacies of the upper part of the coal measures. The main coal seam of the organic-rich lithofacies is thick (10-20 m), extensive, locally split, and locally absent. This seam and associated coal seams in the Buller Coalfield are of low- to high-volatile bituminous rank (vitrinite reflectance between 0.65% and 1.75%). The main seam contains a variable percentage of ash and sulphur. These values are related to the thickening and areal distribution of the seam, which in turn, were controlled by the nature of clastic deposition and peat-forming mire systems, marine transgression and local tidal incursion. The conglomeratic lithofacies represent deposits of trunk and tributary braided streams that rapidly aggraded incised paleovalleys during sea-level stillstands. The main seam represents a deposit of raised mires that initially developed as topogenous mires on abandoned margins of inactive braidbelts. Peat accumulated in mires as a response to a rise in the water table, probably initially due to gradual sea-level rise and climate, and the resulting raised topography served as protection from floods. The upper part of the coal measures consists of sandstone lithofacies of flu vial origin and bioturbated sandstone, mudstone and organic-rich lithofacies, which represent deposits of paralic (deltaic, barrier shoreface, tidal and mire) and marine environments. The fluvial sandstone lithofacies accumulated in channels during a sea-level stillstand. The channels were infilled by coeval braided and meandering streams prior to transgression. Continued transgression, ranging from tidal channel-estuarine incursions to widespread but uneven paleoshoreline encroachment, accompanied by moderate basin subsidence, is marked by a stacked, back-stepping geometry of bioturbated sandstone and marine mudstone lithofacies. Final retrogradation (sea-level highstand) is marked by backfilling of estuaries and by rapid landward deposition of the marine Kaiata Formation in the late Eocene.
Additional publication details
Depositional controls on coal distribution and quality in the Eocene Brunner Coal Measures, Buller Coalfield, South Island, New Zealand