Coal seams often exhibit lateral and vertical variability in composition. When sampled as a whole seam this variability is masked. But if a seam is subdivided into correlateable components, this variability can be tested and better understood. Herein, an architectural approach is used to divide seams into intra-seam components. Clastic splits and mineral partings, as well as persistent fusain and durain layers, can be used as intra-seam bounding units to subdivide a seam into subdivisions called benches. Regional examination of Lower and Middle Pennsylvanian-age coal seams shows that many contain laterally persistent bounding surfaces that can be used to define multiple benches of coal within each seam. Inter-bench analyses from some of the most extensively mined seams in the central Appalachian Basin show that individual benches often have different spatial and quality trends. Hence, some component of whole-seam variability is a function of changes in the relative contribution of these different benches to the seam as a whole. Many coal benches also exhibit intra-bench variation in coal parameters. Intra-bench variation can be analyzed in terms of parameters such as sulfur content and ash yield in order to address changes in coal quality for regional resource evaluation. Intra-bench variation can also be analyzed in terms of a combination of palynologic, petrographic, and geochemical parameters, termed compositional groups, in order to better understand the development of the original mire systems. Compositional groups are defined by ranges of multiple criteria, which are inferred to owe their origin to the mire type in which they formed. Vertical changes in compositional groups within coal benches can be used to infer paleo-edaphic conditions during peat accumulation. If seam thickness is a product of bench configuration, and trends in compositional groups occur in benches, then trends in quality can be marginally predicted based upon seam thickness and inferred bench architecture. Additionally, changes in inter-bench and intra-bench thickness and compositional profiles can be used to infer original depositional controls, such as paleotopography, syndepositional structural movement, and syndepositional clastic influx for more accurate reserve estimates. ?? 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.