Dating coal

The exhibit opened in September and continues into December.

“A Walk Through Time: Pennsylvania Coal Culture, Featuring the Rochester & Pittsburgh Coal Company Collection” documents coalmining life in Western Pennsylvania with artifacts, old photographs, company records, and a sample of the large mine maps now being scanned and made accessible by Harrison Wick, Special Collections librarian and university archivist, said the exhibit features about one hundred panels of images and text and roughly 150 items, including miners’ hats, lamps, lunch buckets and tools, ledgers from local coal companies, and photos dating to the late nineteenth century from coal towns like Ernest, Sagamore, and Whiskey Run.

"However, much of the plant matter that went into forming these coals contained low amounts of lignin." The scientists instead argue that the waxing and waning of coal deposits during the Carboniferous period was closely tied to a unique combination of tectonics and climate conditions that existed during the assembly of Pangea.

Synthesizing findings from across various scientific fields, the scientists argue that during the Carboniferous, massive amounts of organic debris accumulated in warm, humid equatorial wetlands.

The consolidation of the ancient supercontinent Pangea 300 million years ago played a key role in the formation of the coal that powered the Industrial Revolution and that is still burned for energy in many parts of the world today, Stanford scientists say.

, contradicts a popular hypothesis, first formally proposed in the 1990s, that attributes the formation of Carboniferous coal to a 60-million-year gap between the appearance of the first forests and the wood-eating microbes and bacteria that could break them down.

Lignin is the biochemical component that, according to the evolutionary lag hypothesis, ancient bacteria and fungi were unable to break down.

But the exhibit is about more than just the job of mining coal."With enough time," Boyce said, "that plant matter was eventually transformed into the coal that powered the Industrial Revolution and helped usher in the modern age.Coal, as dead plant matter, is obviously based in short-term biological processes.The other key element that is required to form large coal deposits is an "accommodation space"-essentially a large hole-where organic matter can accumulate over long periods without being eroded away."So you need both a wet tropics and a hole to fill.

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Along geologic fault lines where tectonic plates ground against one another, mountain ranges developed, and deep basins formed alongside the new peaks.

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