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Composition and grain size of an eocene coal

bed in southeastern Kalimantan, Indonesia

Author links open overlay panelT.A.MooreaJ.C.Fermb rights and content

A study of an Eocene coal in southeastern Kalimantan , Indonesia shows a relationship between
megascopically determined coal types and microscopically determined kinds and sizes of organic
components. Microscopic examination of small (3 × 3 × 3 cm), uncrushed, chemically eteched
block samples revealed that the coal was composed of plant parts and tissues set in a matrix of
both finegrained particulate and amorphous material. The material identified as plant parts
consists of stems and roots with secondary growth, leaves, and one unknown plant structure.
However, most components with cellular features cannot be identified as particular organs and
are designated only as woody tissue and categorized by cell wall preservation, that is, well,
moderately, or poorly preserved. The particulate matrix is composed of cell wall fragments, cell
fillings, resins, spores, algae and unidentifiable fluorescing fragments. Fungal remains are also
present within the matrix and are the only oxidized material represented within the coal. The
amorphous matrix consists of unstructured (at × 400) humic gels and bitumen.

Size measurement of the organic constituents shows that each particulate component possesses
its own size distribution that approaches normality when transformed to a - log2 (Ø) scale. The
size distribution of most of the plant parts is nearly symmetrical around a mean of 3–4 φ,
whereas means of the particulate matrix components are in the 8–9 φ size range.

Differences in proportions of the plant parts and matrix components determine the character of
the megascopic coal types. Bright banded coal types contain the greatest proportion of well
preserved plant parts; whereas the bright nonbanded and dull, steel-gray coal types contain fewer
well preserved plant parts and consist mostly of plants parts with poor cell wall preservation.
Hence, the megascopically recognizable coal types appear to reflect differences in particle size
arising from the degree of preservation of the plant material. Concentration of decay-resistant
resin and cell fillings in the non-banded and dull coal types is believed to be a result of the loss
of intact plant material.

An absence of larger (> 2 mm) plant material in the Eocene coal contrasts with the proportions
indicated by data from a Miocene lignite and a Holocene peat, both from Kalimantan. In the
latter two deposits logs and roots > 2 mm thick comprise as much as 10–15%. The paucity of
large plant material in the Eocene coal is a function of the original peat-forming vegetation. The
Eocene coal formed from palms and ferns which are easily degraded through microbial activity.
In contrast, the lignite and peat deposits accumulated from woody angiosperms that are relatively
more resistant to decay. However, all three deposits have similar size distributions among the
smaller (< 2 mm) organic components. As in the Eocene coal, plant parts in the Holocene and
Miocene have mode4s in the 2–3 φ range and particulate matrices in the 8–9 φ range. These data
indicate that the processes of plant degradation may follow similar pathways regardless of origin.
Large plant parts are first broken down to 2–3 φ and this may represent a “stable” size. Further
degradation reduces plant parts to finger grained matrix material in the 8–10 φ range.