Stratigraphic analysis of Lower and Middle Pennsylvanian rocks of part of the Central Appalachian Basin reveals two orders of cycles and one overall trend in the vertical sequence of coal-bearing rocks. The smallest order cycle, the coal-clastic cycle, begins at the top of a major-resource coal bed and is composed of a vertical sequence of shale, siltstone, sandstone, seat rock, and overlying coal, which, in turn, is overlain by the next coal-clastic sequence. The average duration of the coal-clastic cycle has been calculated to be about 0.4 m.y. The major marine-transgression cycle is composed of five to seven coal-clastic cycles and is distinguished by the occurrence of widespread, relatively thick (generally thicker than 5 m) marine strata at its base. The duration of this cycle has been calculated to be about 2.5 m.y. The Breathitt coarsening-upward trend describes the general upward coarsening of the Middle Pennsylvanian part of the Breathitt Group. The Breathitt Group includes eight major marine-transgression cycles, and was deposited during a period of approximately 20 m.y. The average duration of coal-clastic cycles is of the same order of magnitude (105 year) as the Milankovitch orbital-eccentricity cycles, and matches the 0.4 m.y. second-order eccentricity cycle (Long Earth-Eccentricity cycle). These orbital periodicities are thought to modulate glacial stages and glacio-eustatic levels. The calculated periodicities of the coal-clastic cycles can be used as evidence for glacio-eustatic control of the coal-bearing rocks of the Appalachian Basin. The 2.5-m.y. periodicity of the major marine-transgression cycle does not match any known orbital or tectonic cycle; the cause of this cycle is unknown, but it might represent episodic thrusting in the orogen, propagation of intraplate stresses, or an unidentified orbital cycle. The Breathitt coarsening-upward trend is interpreted to represent the increasing intensity and proximity of the Alleghenian Orogeny. Previously, tectonic subsidence of the basin was considered to be the dominant control on deposition of the coal-bearing rocks of the basin. However, new calculations show that eustatic rates are more significant than averaged subsidence rates for the Pennsylvanian Appalachian Basin. Accordingly, sea-level changes are considered to be a dominant control on coastal sedimentation during the Pennsylvanian. However, tectonic subsidence created the accomodation space for preservation of various orders of cyclic sedimentation; the preserved order of cycles was dependent upon the rate of subsidence from basin margin to axis.
Additional publication details
Eustatic and tectonic control of deposition of the lower and middle Pennsylvanian strata of the Central Appalachian Basin