Re: Fw: Re: Canadian Coal - depositional setting

From: Kevin Sharman <>
Date: Fri Feb 13 2004 - 15:16:55 EST

----- Original Message -----
From: "Bill Payne" <>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Sent: Thursday, February 12, 2004 10:07 PM
Subject: Re: Fw: Re: Canadian Coal - depositional setting
Hi Bill,
> The clean water drowns the swamp, killing the trees, then the dead trees
> fall over flat, then the clastics form a thin layer, then the clean water
> drains (due to uplift?) without eroding the thin layer of soft clastic
> material (mud), then a continuous layer of grass and herbs or shrubs
> grows across the swamp with roots barely penetrating the thin, soft layer
> of mud so as not to bioturbate the continuity of the thin mud layer, then
> all subsequent vegetation grows on top of the first layer of vegetation
> with roots entirely above the mineral (mud) substrate.
> Kevin, this sequence of events to produce a parting strikes me as a "just
> so" story.
This is easy for you to say since you have not provided an alternative
method, backed up with observational data. Are you planning to provide one
more detailed than "subaqueous deposits did it"? Provide a detailed one,
then we can evaluate whose explanation is more probable. I keep harping on
this point - until you provide a detailed mechanism, you're not out of the
starting blocks, much less in the race.
> I'm
> going to bet that the grass, shrub and tree roots all grow down more than
> the top millimeter of soil, and well below the water table.
I have already shown you that roots can penetrate 10's of centimeters into
the substrate without destroying the continuity of bedding (picture on Glenn
's website).
> > Whether it is the natural colonization process that we see on
> disturbed
> > ground, or when we revegetate by planting, the pioneering vegetation is
> > always shorter stature plants first (grasses and herbs today) followed
>> by
> > shrubs and trees. This is due to the low nutrient content of the
> > bare mineral soil. Once the pioneering vegeation takes hold, leaf
> >litter
> > buildup and nutrient cycling begins. Then it will support larger
> I used to work with mine reclamation, and I couldn't disagree with you
> more. Have you ever seen a tree growing out of the side of a rock face?
> I grant you the weathering products in Alabama may be different than
> those at your latitude, but trees grow in rock by forcing their roots
> into the cracks and getting what nutrients they can. We usually would
> revegetate reclaimed strip mines with pine trees, planted on graded
> spoil.
If you leave the spoil alone and don't plant anything, pioneering vegetation
is the first to colonize it, and this is grasses and forbs (herbaceous
plants). Sure, you can force things by planting trees first, but if we are
looking for analogues to how the top of a parting is colonized, we need to
look at natural succession.

> > I think the answer to the question of why there are not more roots
> > below coal seams is that the roots we see preserved in the floor rock
> >are
> > those of pioneering plants which grew when the water table was
> > relatively low. Once the water table rose, then peat forming plants
> > kicked into high gear, and they didn't need to send their roots down
> > deep into the floor.
> Again, I disagree. If you can support your contention with modern
> examples, I'll listen, but remember, "the floor" in an intraseam parting
> is a very thin layer of mud, and the roots of the pioneering vegetation
> must not disturb the planar top and bottom contacts of the parting while
> they establish a carpet of vegetation sufficient to support and contain
> the roots of all subsequent generations of vegetation. And I think you
> contend that often we don't even see the roots? Are you proposing
> floating aquatic plants that provide the initial layer of peat? Careful
> how you answer that. :-)
No, I will say again that once the water table rises, plants have no need to
send their roots downwards where there is less oxygen.

You better think about how you can emplace vertical roots that we see in
some partings with a turbidity current that flowed horizontally.
> I think you are trying to demonstrate your point by using descriptions of
> strata with roots which you admit may or may not be detrital: "As to
> whether the roots are detrital, there is no sure way to tell from this
> description." If these roots are detrital as I contend,
You can contend these roots are detrital, but since you haven't provided a
mechanism to emplace vertical detrital roots in a parting, your contention
is a speculation.

> > Pioneering vegetation doesn't have a high root density, so I have
> > observed that it doesn't bioturbate the underlying sediment much if
> > at all.
> Are these observations of modern pioneering vegetation?
>Can you provide
> a photo of an undisturbed, layered sediment with pioneering vegetation
> sufficient to support all subsequent vegetation?
No, I am talking about the photos on Glenn's website (both the ones in sandstone and the
photo with the hammer in it of roots in shale.
>>You may not believe this when I say it, but I
> > really don't care which model for the formation of coal is closest
> > to the real explanation - I will side with the one that is best
> > supported by the data. I think if you were to adopt this approach, and
> >an old
> > earth/non global flood explanation was best supported by the data,
> > this would conflict with your faith. You would then be faced with
> > choices - reject or ignore the old earth/global flood explanation to
> >keep your
> > faith intact (this is entirely your choice and I won't knock it), or
> > modify/reject your faith.
> No, Kevin. My faith is nonnegotiable. I may modify my interpretation of
> Scripture. Tell me where I said my faith includes "taking the young
> earth/flood account from the Bible."
(snip) "I tend to take a literal view of Genesis." Correct me if I'm wrong,
but doesn't that quote say that you support the creation/flood account? Are
you saying that the quote is only part of your interpretation of Scripture
and not part of your faith? I thought that would be considered part of your
> > I can't see that you can be objective with the beliefs you bring to
> > the debate. An example of this stance is the Statement of Faith of
> > Answers in Genesis. The last article reads "By definition, no
> apparent,
> > perceived or claimed evidence in any field, including history and
> > chronology, can be valid if it contradicts the Scriptural record. Of
> > primary importance is the fact that evidence is always subject to
> > interpretation by fallible people who do not possess all
> > information." I think anyone adopting this has stated up front that
> they will not
> > be objective.
> The question is how to interpret the Scriptural record. You and I may
> have different interpretations, and we may both be wrong.
So do you think the above means "no evidence can be valid if it contradicts
our interpretation of the Scriptural record"? If so, then a person can
declare invalid whatever they want.

>>but if the belief in a literal reading of Genesis is a
> > cornerstone of your faith which you cannot set aside, you cannot be
> > objective.
> I feel that you are putting words into my mouth. Please quote where I
> said "a literal reading of Genesis is a cornerstone of [my] faith which
> [I] cannot set aside." I know you prefaced that quote with "if", but the
> thrust of this thinking is to leave the "if" out.
No Bill, that's EXACTLY why I put the "if" in. This is not putting words in
your mouth. Let the words come out of your mouth then: Can you set aside
your stated position of "I tend to take a literal view of Genesis" or not?
If you can, we will get somewhere in this debate, and if you can't, then I'm
wasting my time because your mind is made up.

> >Let me ask
> > you this - do you feel you are considering all the data objectively?
> You're asking the wrong question. I am definitely considering all of the
> data and offering the best explanations I can come up with at the time.
> Are my explanations exhaustive? No. Are there other possible
> explanations that I may not have thought of? Absolutely. You're
> frustrated because I don't move away from the Flood model. If I followed
> you and Glenn I would be shutting doors behind me.
I asked you if you were considering all the data objectively. Not moving
away from the flood model is an indication that you are unable or unwilling
to be objective.
> I told
> her that I was thinking about Glenn's question from two or three weeks
> ago (which I still haven't answered).

I will assume it's the one from Jan. 27th "Are you really keeping an open
mind or are you avoiding the direction the data is leading you so that you
don't have to
give up certain theological views? Think about it."

This is exactly what I'm trying to get at. You are obviously struggling
with it.
> which
> washed a lot of leaves and debris into the lake. As I was driving out a
> day or so later, I noticed the debris was concentrated along the
> shoreline in the eastern corner of the lake. .....Here was a floating mat
that had
> been pushed together by the wind. It was still there the next day.
You need a shoreline in this example. Are you proposing that your coal
forming floating mats needed a shoreline to bunch up against? This would
require dry land in many places on earth from the Devonian to the Recent.
Are you saying there was always dry land during the Flood?
> Last week we drilled (augered) and installed a temporary monitoring well
> in gray shale. I came back about 4 hours later, grabbed a water sample
> and poured it into 3 40-ml vials preserved with HCl. .... The acid
apparently caused flocculation of the
> suspended sediment.
Acid preservation in the water sampling I am familiar with lowers the pH
below 2. In the ocean, this would kill all the marine life wouldn't it?
> I realized
> that if this had been a shallow-water basin and floating plants with
> bare roots had been resting upright on the bottom, then this dark
> sediment would have settled around very delicate roots and produced what
> appeared to be a rooted soil.
Turbidity currents have a velocity. This would churn up your waterlogged
floating plants which are resting on the bottom and make it very unlikely
that they would all remain vertical.

>The sediment could have also settled out
> in a thin, horizontally extensive layer across the bottom of a basin
> covered with debris from a floating mat.
Show us modern or ancient turbidites where a single thin (~10 cm) layer can
be traced for tens of kilometers. Back it up with references please. This
is what you would need to explain a parting.

> I think
> you said that you don't know of any Canadian tonsteins occurring as
> intraseam partings,
I said that earlier, but then presented data from Grieve (1984) with
descriptions of intraseam tonsteins. Since then I found info on tonsteins
in the Tertiary Hat Creek coal of BC (550 meters thick) with up to 72
tonsteins. No details I have found yet on what these look like.
> Why do intraseam tonsteins (some at least) not
> contain either standing trees or roots from vegetation that
> re-established on top of the tonstein.
Same reasons as regular partings: the only ones that are preserved fall into
standing water in the swamp after it's been flooded. The tonsteins I
described from Grieve (1984) have organic matter stringers that bend around
the graupen. I said these may be roots, and they may be insitu, although I
noted from the description we can't tell. Grieve noted that these tonsteins
occurred in coal seams, although the immediately adjacent lithology is
carbonaceous mudstone.

> > >Currents in the open water would disperse the suspended ash
> > > over wide areas beneath a floating mat.
> >
> > Yes, they would disperse it all right - so it would no longer be a
> > distinct layer. (Kilby, 1984): "any environment with more than a
> > minimum energy level will obliterate ash falls. Thus, tonsteins and
> > bentonites preferentially occur in low energy marine and coal swamp
> > settings."
> Please explain how a tonstein forms in a "coal swamp" with active
> bioturbation from plants. Also, please explain how tonsteins form in a
> "low energy marine" setting where animals bioturbate the bottom.
For the ones that are preserved, there is no active bioturbation from the
underlying vegetation, since it has been drowned. The pioneering vegetation
re-establishes on top of the tonstein just like it does on a parting,
sending roots down but not bioturbating enough to destroy the continuity,
just as in the photo with the hammer. Another thing to consider is that
tonsteins are thought to be quite compactible: Outerbridge (2003): "the
compaction ratio is estimated at 6:1 by Lyons and others (1992)" So, what
we see as a thin layer today, and you have a hard time imagining being
preserved without bioturbation, was originally ~6 times thicker.

Marine rocks where bentonites are preserved do not show extensive
bioturbation. Would you like to give your explanation of how non-coal
tonsteins and bentonites form?

> > Most of my objections to the floating mat model apply equally to
> > non-Cretaceous coals, i.e. the sulphur problem,
>>tonsteins, the
> > association of coals with non-marine and shallow marine rocks only.
> Tonsteins are harder for you to explain than for me (IMO).
I have already pointed out that volcanic ash would be mixed and obliterated
if picked up by a turbidity current. So, yet again, you still have not
explained the mechanism.
>Since we
> don't know what the rainfall was like during the Flood, then sulfur is
> not and insurmountable problem in my mind.
You would rather have us accept an argument based on completely unknown
parameters? I asked you to assign some numbers to the dilution of seawater;
instead you dismiss my sulphur argument (supported with data) in favor of an
unexplained phenomenon. I can't call that science.
> > So Bill, is it worth continuing this debate?
> For my part it is very worthwhile, and I appreciate your time.

For me the answer lies in what I wrote above: "Let the words come out of
your mouth then: Can you set aside your stated position of "I tend to take a
literal view of Genesis" or not? If you can, we will get somewhere in this
debate, and if you can't, then I'm wasting my time because your mind is made
up." Comments?



Outerbridge, W.F. (2003) Isopach map and Regional Correlations of the Fire
Clay Tonstein, Central Appalachian Basin, USGS Open File Report 03-351, 34
Received on Fri Feb 13 15:17:57 2004

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