How Coal Is Formed

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How Coal Is Formed

Coal is a very important fossil fuel. Without coal, steel would never have been invented and could have changed my life dramatically. The reason for this is because I am from Pittsburgh. At one point in time Pittsburgh was the leading producer of steel, and even had the nickname “The Steel City.” During the early 1900’s, steel factories were the main source of an income for people living in Pittsburgh. Working in these steel factories has been a part of my family’s past, since three generations of my family have been part of the steel industry. Therefore coal is somewhat a part of me and learning about what coal and how it is formed fascinates me.

The first step in the formation of coal is the build up decomposed plant debris known as peat. Peat is a complex hydrocarbon that is the building block for coal. There are several factors that influence the formation of peat. The first two factors are “the evolutionary development of plant life” and the climate conditions. Conditions have to be warm enough to produce plants, and have a sufficient amount of moisture to allow plants to decompose and protect the peat. The last factor consists of the physical circumstances of the area, which include locations of bodies of water and “rates of subsidence or uplift” (Coal 2005). During a particular humid climate of the Carboniferous Period (360 to 286 million years ago), large tropical trees, ferns, and other plants constructed the great amount of areas that make up the coal beds of today (Peat 2005).

The best conditions for coal to form are slow, constant subsidence, levees, beaches, and bars which give protection, and a limited supply of sediments that would stop peat formation (Coal 2005). With these conditions, the plant matter is able to build up. Bacterial decay through microorganisms begins to occur and peat is formed.

Note that much of plant matter that lies on the surface of the Earth is never converted to peat because of organic decomposition and natural fires (Coal 2005). When this occurs closer to the surface and oxygen is available, an aerobic process occurs producing gaseous and liquid products.

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