Re: Canadian Coal - depositional setting

From: Bill Payne <>
Date: Sun Feb 22 2004 - 23:52:03 EST

Greetings Kevin,

On Fri, 13 Feb 2004 13:16:55 -0700 "Kevin Sharman" <>

> > Kevin, this sequence of events to produce a parting strikes me as a
> > 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
> more detailed than "subaqueous deposits did it"? Provide a detailed
> 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
> starting blocks, much less in the race.

OK, one more for you. I keep harping on partings, and contend you
haven't provided a plausible explanation for their formation and
preservation during swamp reestablishment. The same critique would apply
to your explanation for "discrete beds of sporinite". Here is yet
another explanation from you which requires a flooded condition ("a lake
environment with an absence of clastic input"), followed by the
reestablishment of a swamp without disturbing the thin, "discrete beds of

> I have already shown you that roots can penetrate 10's of centimeters
> the substrate without destroying the continuity of bedding (picture on
Glenn's website).

Yes, but you haven't shown that these are in situ.

> If you leave the spoil alone and don't plant anything, pioneering
> 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
> looking for analogues to how the top of a parting is colonized, we need
> look at natural succession.

In a moist environment I see no reason why trees can't sprout from seeds
during the first growing season. This is not forcing things, it's part
of the natural succession. Trees growing out of a vertical rock face
demonstrate that "leaf litter" isn't necessary for trees to grow.

I stopped to look at a couple of small wetlands beside the road in
eastern Alabama this last week. I got some photographs (which I will
e-mail to you) of the roots below grass and roots below a small tree.
Cattails were abundant in both wetland areas, and there were clumps of
grass and trees growing in each area. The roots of the clump of grass
that I dug up can be seen hanging out of the bottom of the soil at least
8 inches below the surface, and the tree roots are at least 8 inches
deep. As I have said, the trees readily germinate and grow in the moist
environment; they do not wait for a vegetative substrate to be built up
to provide nutrients - they sink their roots into the soil.

> 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 may continue to say that, but my observations contradict your
statements. This is the wet season so I suppose you might say that the
grass and tree roots in the wetlands I was looking at last week are below
the water now but will be above it during the summer. I'm scheduled to
visit an area where there is a swamp next week. The water table in this
swamp is more consistent throughout the year. I'll try to get some
photos of some uprooted grasses, shrubs, and small trees, just to see how
deep the roots of each are. What are you going to say when I show you
photos of deep roots in continuously flooded areas?

You need to have a modern analog that shows pioneering vegetation was
established on layered soil, and trees growing above the pioneering
vegetation, with the layers of soil still intact, i.e., not bioturbated.
If you can come up with such a modern analog, one which I can see in
photographs or drive to and study for myself, then you will have undercut
one of the primary supports of the flood model. I don't believe such a
modern analog exists. You will also need to show that the weight of the
trees doesn't compress the underlying organic mat, which would give the
tree roots access to the mineral substrate.

With all of the detailed literature you can access for coal petrography,
can you show that the vegetation immediately above partings (inorganic as
well as sporinite) is pioneering vegetation only, and doesn't contain any
tree macerals?

> You better think about how you can emplace vertical roots that we see
> some partings with a turbidity current that flowed horizontally.

Glenn made the point, as did you, that disconnected, detrital roots would
tend to lay horizontally to subhorizontally. It has since occurred to me
that vertical detrital roots could result from floating plants with their
roots still attached. In a swamp setting with saturated soil, if the
swamp were overtopped with strong currents of water the soil would be
eroded from around the plant roots as the plants were being uprooted. As
the plants went into suspension, their roots would still be attached,
hanging down in the water. Given the fluidity of the turbidity current I
described in the acidified glass vial, it is quite possible that if the
plants had settled to the bottom, still floating but with their roots
touching the bottom, the sediment from a gentle turbidity current would
settle around the plant roots without significant distortion. In fact,
if the water were turbid from previous currents as the plants settled to
the bottom, the sediment would collect around the roots (and plants) with
no distortion (until the sediments were compressed during burial). This
process would work for fine-grained sediments, but may not for sand.

> 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.

OK, that's what I thought. You are assuming the fossil roots to be in
situ, and using that assumption to prove your point. This is an example
of what I have said - that it is often difficult to separate the data and
assumptions. Your data is underlain by an assumption; if the assumption
is incorrect then the data is invalid. You need a modern analog from
which to argue.

I have explained detrital roots in fine-grained sediment, which would
lithify to clay or shale. I am willing to grant you that the apparent
best explanation, given my current understanding, for vertical roots in
sand is in situ. I would like to see some experiments in a flume tank to
see if it is possible to wash sand in with vertical attached roots. I
still maintain that the sparse roots you have shown below the Gates coal
are insufficient to represent the establishment of a coal swamp. My best
synthesis of these interpretations (putting aside my preconceptions) of
in situ and insufficient roots is to say that the vertical roots
represent an opportunistic growth, followed by flooding and deposition of
organics from a floating mat.

> (snip) "I tend to take a literal view of Genesis." Correct me if I'm
> but doesn't that quote say that you support the creation/flood account?
> you saying that the quote is only part of your interpretation of
> and not part of your faith? I thought that would be considered part of
> faith.

I appreciate your question. My faith is rooted in Jesus Christ as the
only Son of the living God, who was crucified, dead, buried, and the
third day raised from the dead. He was sinless, so He had no personal
debt to pay; yet He suffered the wrath of His Father for the
transgressions we all have committed. He paid the price for everyone
else's sin. I gave Him my life in exchange for His death. When God
looks at me, He sees that my sin account has been paid in full by the
substitutionary death of Jesus. Therefore, I have fellowship with the
One who created the heavens and the earth, and who created and loves all
of us. All have sinned (Romans 3:10), "the wages of sin is death, but
the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
"God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that
whosoever believes in him [i.e., puts him in control of their life] shall
not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). That is the crux of my
faith, and that is what is non-negotiable.

We know from scripture itself that parts of the Bible are allegorical
(eg. Daniel 2:17-47, Revelation 17:7-18). There is debate within the
Christian community as to whether Genesis 1-11 is allegorical. I am
attempting to construct a model from geology that is consistent with a
literal reading of Genesis. Glenn has constructed a model consistent
with a non-literal reading of Genesis. Glenn is no more or less of a
Christian than I am; we just have different perspectives of parts of the

> > The question is how to interpret the Scriptural record. You and I
> > have different interpretations, and we may both be wrong.

> So do you think the above means "no evidence can be valid if it
> our interpretation of the Scriptural record"? If so, then a person can
> declare invalid whatever they want.

I am taking the position that the evidence (raw data, not interpretations
or data undergirded with assumptions) is valid. Scripture is also valid.
  Our interpretation of either or both may be invalid.

> 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
> your stated position of "I tend to take a literal view of Genesis" or
> 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.

To say "I tend to..." means that I favor or lean toward that position,
not that I am rigid in that position. I start from one perspective, you
start from another.

> I asked you if you were considering all the data objectively. Not
> away from the flood model is an indication that you are unable or
> to be objective.

It could mean that I am keeping my mind open for additional data or

> I will assume it's the one from Jan. 27th "Are you really keeping an
> mind or are you avoiding the direction the data is leading you so that
> 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
> with it.

The struggle is a sign of growth; a sign that I am considering your

> You need a shoreline in this example. Are you proposing that your coal
> forming floating mats needed a shoreline to bunch up against? This
> require dry land in many places on earth from the Devonian to the
> Are you saying there was always dry land during the Flood?

No, not during the early parts of the Flood.

> Acid preservation in the water sampling I am familiar with lowers the
> below 2. In the ocean, this would kill all the marine life wouldn't

Probably. The very low pH accelerated the flocculating. Mild acidity in
swamps flocculates clays without killing everything.

> Turbidity currents have a velocity. This would churn up your
> floating plants which are resting on the bottom and make it very
> that they would all remain vertical.

If the plants were suspended in turbid water and plants settled as the
sediment did, then the roots would be buried in growth patterns.

> Show us modern or ancient turbidites where a single thin (~10 cm) layer
> be traced for tens of kilometers. Back it up with references please.
> is what you would need to explain a parting.

Look at slides 47 and 48 on the CD I sent to you (if anyone else wants
this PowerPoint CD, contact me off-line). You can see three partings in
the photo on slide 47.

Slide 48: ž÷the Žblue bandŪ÷ parting of blue gray clay÷generally ranges
from 1 to 3 inches in thickness and lies a little below the middle of the
coal. In most parts of Illinois there is an additional parting averaging
á inch thick 6 to 10 inches below the blue band, and at many places a
minute dark shale or clay parting averaging 1/8 inch is 1-1/2 to 2 feet
below the top of the coal. These partings are traceable through a belt
ranging from 550 miles in linear distance northwest-southeast from north
central Iowa to western Kentucky and 430 miles northeast-southwest from
central western Indiana to eastern Kansas.

A principal problem to explain in any case is how the forest vegetation
of a swamp could be so completely levelled as to permit accumulation of a
continuous layer of clay averaging an inch or so in thickness. If one
argued÷for an allochthonous origin for the coal, the vast known extent of
these and other coal beds would make such an interpretation
impossible÷for there would be no available source for the vegetation
whose detritus was to cover such vast areas.Ó (Wanless, H.R.,1952.
Studies of field relationships of coal beds. In: Second Conference on the
Origin and Constitution of Coal, 164-167, 172-173)

Here are three very thin partings covering roughly a quarter-million
square miles. Your explanation within the swamp model?

> For the ones that are preserved, there is no active bioturbation from
> underlying vegetation, since it has been drowned. The pioneering
> reestablishes on top of the tonstein just like it does on a parting,
> sending roots down but not bioturbating enough to destroy the
> just as in the photo with the hammer.

So why don't we see roots penetrating the tonsteins and partings? You
admit that in your model the roots were there at one time; I'm saying
that we see many tonsteins and other partings which show no evidence of
roots. Sure roots may be hard to see in a dark parting, but they
shouldn't be invisible, and in light-colored tonsteins black roots should
jump out at us.

  žOne of the more enigmatic features revealed by the intraseam tonsteins
[volcanic-ash deposits] is an almost complete absence of tree
preservation, either as tree trunks extending from the coal ply [bench or
bed] below or as Vertebraria (root structures) extending from the coal
ply above÷. The observations of this group, representing over 400
man-years, confirmed the almost complete absence of tree preservation in
intraseam tonsteins within local seams.

The established notion of a forest setting is therefore not supported by
observation, and contrasts with both a lack of tree preservation in
intraseam tonsteins and only sparse tree preservation in interseam tuffs.
  It should, however, be recognised that this is a negative argument, and
that a lack of preserved trees is not direct evidence for a lack of
trees. (pp 190-191)

It can also be argued that only those ash falls deposited when the peat
surface was flooded and devoid of trees have been preserved, and that
other ash falls have been washed away or incorporated into the active
peat surface. Such a proposition is indeed consistent with the lack of
preserved trees, but does not adequately explain the lack of tree root
systems that should be found extending into the tonsteins from the coal
plies above. (p 192)

Incorporating thickness variations of up to 11 cm in the tonsteins
modelled indicates that topography on the peat surface varied by less
than 22-44 cm÷.Such an absence of topographic relief is not only
difficult to envisage in a forest setting, but is also inconsistent with
other irregular peat surfaces such as raised bogs.Ó (p 202) (Creech,
Michael, 2002. Tuffaceous deposition in the Newcastle Coal Measures:
challenging existing concepts of peat formation in the Sydney Basin, New
South Wales, Australia. International Journal of Coal Geology 5, 185-214)

> Another thing to consider is that
> tonsteins are thought to be quite compactible: Outerbridge (2003):
> compaction ratio is estimated at 6:1 by Lyons and others (1992)" So,
> we see as a thin layer today, and you have a hard time imagining being
> preserved without bioturbation, was originally ~6 times thicker.

I've read that clay compacts about 2x. Why would tonsteins compact 6x?

> 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?

Ash falls on open water, goes into suspension and disperses over a wide
area, including the areas beneath floating mats, as it settles to the

> I have already pointed out that volcanic ash would be mixed and
> if picked up by a turbidity current. So, yet again, you still have not
> explained the mechanism.

See above.

> You would rather have us accept an argument based on completely unknown
> parameters? I asked you to assign some numbers to the dilution of
> instead you dismiss my sulphur argument (supported with data) in favor
of an
> unexplained phenomenon. I can't call that science.

If the evidence points toward an event with unknown parameters, are you
going to reject the event? Do you accept the "Big Bang" origin of the
universe? What parameters do you propose for the origin of the universe?

> For me the answer lies in what I wrote above: "Let the words come out
> 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
> debate, and if you can't, then I'm wasting my time because your mind is
> up." Comments?

Let me give you a little more of my background and how I came to a
position of faith. I was raised in the church but drifted into
agnosticism while studying geology at Birmingham-Southern College. I
shelved my Bible in the fall of my sophomore year at 'Southern and began
to pursue through science answers to those ultimate questions of our
origin and fate. I went to grad school (geology) at the University of
Tennessee, an experience that stood in stark contrast to BSC. The music
of life stopped; the fun faded. By the time I was 27 I had spent 3 years
in the Marines (nine months in Viet Nam, 3 in Okinawa), biked through
Europe, circled back through UT to finish grad school, and worked for a
consultant as a geologist (mainly doing coal exploration). I had it all,
yet I had nothing. Sometimes I would suddenly wake up from a deep sleep,
with a gnawing fear of death on my mind and with the feeling someone or
something was in the room with me.

I had come to think of the Bible as a collection of fairy tales in the
same category as Santa Claus and Snow White. My best friend divorced his
wife Carol, leaving her and their four-year-old son, and my friend and I
got an apartment together. I felt very bad that his family had split up,
so I went by to check on them (yeah, we eventually married and I adopted
the boy, who is now 34, but that's another story). Carol had become a
Christian through their divorce, as a result of her in-laws inviting her
to a Billy Graham Crusade in Birmingham. As she and I were talking, she
told me of her conversion, and so, gentle soul that I am, I began to pick
at her faith with my dozen reasons why Christianity couldn't possibly be
true. She responded by offering to set up a meeting for me with someone
who might be able to answer my questions.

I agreed, and that person did answer several of the objections I had. He
recommended a book that I devoured: _Evidence That Demands a Verdict_ by
Josh McDowell. One paragraph in that book grabbed me: "We also have a
roundabout reference from Julian the Apostate, Roman Emperor from
361-363, who was one of the most gifted of the ancient adversaries to
Christianity. In his work against Christianity, he states: 'Jesus...has
now been celebrated about three hundred years; having done nothing in his
lifetime worthy of fame, unless anyone thinks it a very great work to
heal lame and blind people and exorcise demoniacs in the villages of
Bethsaida and Bethany.'" It struck me as incongruous that Julian, while
attempting to discredit Christianity, accepted as fact the miracles I had
rejected as fairy tales. He was certainly closer in time to Jesus than I
was, and presumably would have had a better independent assessment of the
man's life than I could ever get. At that moment I leaned back, looked
at the ceiling and thought, "OK, God and Jesus, if you guys are really
there and if you want my life, you can have it; it's certainly no good to
me the way it is." That was it - no bells, no bright lights. I just
went back to reading my book.

A couple of weeks later I realized that, in my mind, the weight of
evidence had shifted from "no God" to "there really is a God." I didn't
say anything to anyone, but after another couple of weeks Carol said,
"You've become a Christian haven't you?" She could see the difference in
my eyes. I no longer fear death; my heart is filled with a perfect peace
and my life has a sense of meaning and purpose. I don't know all the
answers, but I do know the One who does.

For 15 years after converting I read and studied my Bible, having left
behind the intellectual objections I had to faith. Within 6 months of
starting work at the job I still hold, I was sitting in an early-morning
meeting where the group leader, who had called the meeting, overslept. I
found myself in a room with three other geologists, two of whom, for no
apparent reason, began discussing the poor level of science coming out of
creationist universities. As I sat there listening, I realized that I
had no response to offer. That discomfort provided the stimulus to
propel me back into the science of origins.

So, Kevin, I've been an agnostic for 10+ years, a Christian not
interested in origins science for about 15 years, and a Christian
interested in science from a creationist perspective for about 14 years.
My primary motivation is not defending the Bible so I can keep my faith;
it is removing barriers to faith so folks like you can openly and
honestly consider the life and claims of Jesus. Do you believe, as
Julian the Apostate did, that Jesus performed the miracles ascribed to
him in the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)?

Received on Sat Feb 28 13:36:23 2004

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