Pre-fossil Trees and the escape from death by coalification!

It’s wet and miserable here at the farm so I am browsing the internet and stumbled over some geological descriptions of Ellesmere Island and its coal beds that contain, would you believe un-coalified wood.

Here’s one description:

At the site where I worked on Ellesmere Island, there were large Metasequoia logs and tree stumps still rooted in situ in the coal layers. Picking apart the coal layers, I could pull out Metasequoia leaves, twigs, and male and female cones. The siltstones between the coals preserved beautiful fossil impressions of a variety of tree leaves and stems.

And a photo showing an example:



(Metasequoia stump in its growth position, Stenkul Fiord, Ellesmere Island
(photo by Anne Jefferson))

Coal is supposed to form from the result of the burial of vegetation by the application of vertical pressure. Here we have coal beds outcropping with insitu tree trunks sitting in coalified vegetation but which contain un-coalified remnants of tree trunks and what nots.

It reminds me of December 1975 when on a Macquarie University Geology Society (MUGS) trip to Tasmania and Victoria we visited the Morwell open cut lignite mine. There too one could see beds of smashed up forests and upright tree trunks that were snapped off a few feet from the ground, now represented by the sedimentary lignite deposit (brown coal).

So how do you produce coal? If compression due to burial is your answer, then you have a problem, like that at Ellesmere Island, because this mechanism of vertical compression from burial is not observed empirically. Those tree trunks should have been flattened and turned into coal. They have not, and thus the explanation fails.

The more likely explanation is that the buried vegetation was preferentially replaced by the deposition of carbon from upwelling methane from the Earth’s mantle.

All rather unsettling, no?

Next thing they will be asserting diamonds are formed from compressing coal!


About Louis Hissink

Retired diamond exploration geologist. I spent my professional life looking for mineral deposits, found some, and also located a number of kimberlites in NSW and Western Australia. Exploration geology is the closest one can get to practicing the scientific method, mineral exploration always being concerned with finding anomalous geophysical or geochemical data, framing a model and explanation for the anomaly and then testing it with drilling or excavation. All scientific theories are ultimately false since they invariably involved explaining something with incomplete extant knowledge. Since no one is omniscient or knows everything, so too scientific theories which are solely limited to existing knowledge. Because the future always yields new data, scientific theories must change to be compatible with the new data. Thus a true scientist is never in love with any particular theory, always knowing that when the facts change, so too must he/she change their minds.
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3 Responses to Pre-fossil Trees and the escape from death by coalification!

  1. fabio says:

    I knew plasma theory when I was still a teen-ager through a deceased German scientist who knew several scientists during WW2: Planck, Geiger, Linde, Porsche, Von Braun and others. One thing he always criticized was the idea of “big pressures” to form diamonds as a childness of Human mind, which dramaticity needs big explosions, pressure and temperatures, like Hollywood special effects.


  2. Ian MacCulloch says:

    Ah Louis – you have been seduced by Thomas Gold’s theory. While there is evidence for accumulations of methane per se the ice hydrates area an especial situation. The partial coalification is due, in my view, to the interactions of acid vulcanism products falling over the vegetation represented above. The first clue comes from the the Illawara where there is elemental sulpur leaching from the cliff face in the Bulli Seam. Also associated is a rather pleasant selection of interbedded cyclic ash fall tuffs. The trace element analysis supports the contention that many black shales and indeed coal seams have a strong volcanic association. As is the wont of our industry to little effort is put into fully understanding these rather unique rock types. It is assumed they are sedimentary but their trace element assocation can be better plotted as’rocks’ of igneous exhalative volcanic associaiotn deposited mainly into brines but occasionally into fresh water ennvironments. For years I could never understand these associations until I had a chat with Prof Dick stantion on these relationships and his reply was ‘volcanics’. Once you start looking at the black shales from an igneous perspective then a whole new dimension opens up. If you are up to it come down to Bendigo and I will show you a few ash fall tuffs from the Ordovician complete with 10 to 15% TOC. It does make you think.


    • Ian,

      Really? I really am slow off the block.

      Mantle emission is basically a volcanic process in any case but I had not considered black shales as volcanics or exhalatives as you point out. Coal also produces uranium and other incompatible igneous elements on burning which no one has satisfactorily explained, except by the magical process of scavenging surrounding sandstones etc.

      Actually it’s the Russian-Ukrainian theory, Tommy Gold plagiarised the Russians, but the example of the US coal seams where the deeper parts of the bed are coalified and become less so as the bed is traced laterally to the surface where it is lignite, or brown coal. This makes it a methane exhalative deposit rather than a sensu-strictu volcanic exhalative but the volcanagenic association never occurred to me and one suspects there are many different settings where mantle exhalations are the dominant process – slow seepage producing coal beds replacing vegetation, or more carbon rich catastrophic deposits associated with volcanic activity.

      (I presume you mean Dick Stanton?)

      It also helps explain the Venus-Petroleum interpretation made by Velikovsky when recounting native creation myths etc – if the oil shales are volcanic eruption deposits triggered by external events then the reported rains of petroleum (naptha) become explicable. Not coming from Venus but from the Earth. Kimberlite eruptions also occur at that time with enormous outpouring of CO2 , come to think of it.

      Crikey – this is a whole new area of research!

      Thanks for the heads up!


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