More settled science consensus: the formation of coal in the Caboniferous looks to be "grounded in abiotic processes"

Researcher cites a tendency in science to ignore, rather than go after, theories believed to be false.


Two Stanford geologists are disputing the decade-old explanation of the large amount of coal accumulated during the Carboniferous Period. Associate Professor Kevin Boyce and Postdoctorate Research Fellow Matthew Nelsen collaborated with scientists across the country to release a paper this past month in which they propose a new understanding of coal development.

The previous hypothesis of coal accumulation focused on a temporal lag between the evolution of lignin production in woody plants and the evolution of lignin-degrading fungi to break down this new material. This would have resulted in the non-degraded lignin building up, depositing massive amounts of coal.

“But [this explanation] can’t be true,” Boyce said.

The paper that Boyce and Nelsen collaborated on uses several lines of evidence in order to disprove the old hypothesis.

The most convincing evidence includes a fossil record of lignin-degrading fungi pre-dating the Carboniferous period. New research also reveals that the standard preparation of fossilized plants washes away much of the fossilized fungi and microbes, suggesting the current fungi fossil record to be an underestimate of what was actually present at the time.

The hypothesized 130-million-year evolutionary lag between the plants and the fungi would also have resulted in severe environmental consequences.

“Even if plants were less productive then, there’s probably a good three or so gigatons of lignin being produced per year,” Boyce said. “If you had 80 million years without lignin decay, you’d run out of CO2 in the atmosphere in a couple hundred years… we’d freeze the earth.”

Their paper also includes a graph displaying the accumulation of organic sediments over time. Rather than showing a steady increase over the Carboniferous Period, the graph has many spikes of accumulation, each of which lasts around 500,000 years.

“If that was fungi, what would they do? Evolve, un-evolve, and then evolve back?” Boyce said. “The actual record of accumulation doesn’t really work for it being a biotic cause. It looks much more grounded in abiotic processes.”

The new theory explains coal accumulation using weather and tectonic activity. The Carboniferous Period was not only warm, but also coincided with the separation of Pangaea. The spikes on the graph coincide with basins opening up and providing a place for plant material to be deposited before eroding away.

Boyce and Nelsen looked at the coal accumulation in Denver around 50 million years ago as a model to explain the 300-million-year-old phenomenon of Carboniferous accumulation.

“It was equivalently productive and wet, and a lot of coal formed because the incipient Rocky Mountains were there so there was a place to put all the coal,” Boyce said. “So the local rates of accumulation were similar to what was going on worldwide during the Carboniferous.”

According to Nelson, discontent with the evolutionary lag hypothesis has been around for some time before the publishing of this recent paper.

“I think there were some grumblings in the literature: people going after this but not anywhere near the level of detail that we did,” Nelsen said.

This raises the larger issue: If geologists had seen problems with the hypothesis, why had nothing been done to disprove it earlier?

According to Boyce, the unique collaborative circumstances hadn’t occurred in the past.

“You’re vry often at the edge of what you know yourself and it’s very important to have the right collaborators looking at it from other directions,” Boyce said.

Further, “That becomes a real problem,” said Boyce, “because people using [geology] from outside the field aren’t going to recognize who was ignoring what… These things have actual consequences.”

Source: The Stanford Daily


Delayed fungal evolution did not cause the Paleozoic peak in coal production

Matthew P. Nelsen, William A. DiMichele, Shanan E. Peters, and C. Kevin Boyce

The Carboniferous−Permian marks the greatest coal-forming interval in Earth’s history, contributing to glaciation and uniquely high oxygen concentrations at the time and fueling the modern Industrial Revolution. This peak in coal deposition is frequently attributed to an evolutionary lag between plant synthesis of the recalcitrant biopolymer lignin and fungal capacities for lignin degradation, resulting in massive accumulation of plant debris. Here, we demonstrate that lignin was of secondary importance in many floras and that shifts in lignin abundance had no obvious impact on coal formation. Evidence for lignin degradation—including fungal—was ubiquitous, and absence of lignin decay would have profoundly disrupted the carbon cycle. Instead, coal accumulation patterns implicate a unique combination of climate and tectonics during Pangea formation.


Organic carbon burial plays a critical role in Earth systems, influencing atmospheric O2 and COconcentrations and, thereby, climate. The Carboniferous Period of the Paleozoic is so named for massive, widespread coal deposits. A widely accepted explanation for this peak in coal production is a temporal lag between the evolution of abundant lignin production in woody plants and the subsequent evolution of lignin-degrading Agaricomycetes fungi, resulting in a period when vast amounts of lignin-rich plant material accumulated. Here, we reject this evolutionary lag hypothesis, based on assessment of phylogenomic, geochemical, paleontological, and stratigraphic evidence. Lignin-degrading Agaricomycetes may have been present before the Carboniferous, and lignin degradation was likely never restricted to them and their class II peroxidases, because lignin modification is known to occur via other enzymatic mechanisms in other fungal and bacterial lineages. Furthermore, a large proportion of Carboniferous coal horizons are dominated by unlignified lycopsid periderm with equivalent coal accumulation rates continuing through several transitions between floral dominance by lignin-poor lycopsids and lignin-rich tree ferns and seed plants. Thus, biochemical composition had little relevance to coal accumulation. Throughout the fossil record, evidence of decay is pervasive in all organic matter exposed subaerially during deposition, and high coal accumulation rates have continued to the present wherever environmental conditions permit. Rather than a consequence of a temporal decoupling of evolutionary innovations between fungi and plants, Paleozoic coal abundance was likely the result of a unique combination of everwet tropical conditions and extensive depositional systems during the assembly of Pangea.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
February 5, 2016 4:55 am

Could an abundance of CO2 in the atmosphere had anything to do with it?

Reply to  DHR
February 5, 2016 5:08 am

I think you mean “overabundance”. I personally prefer “overkill” of CO2 as it makes for better headlines. No point looking into that theory because as the current indoctrination goes, the earth would be a flaming ball akin to Venus and seas would bubbling caldrons of acid unable to support life.

Don K
Reply to  DHR
February 5, 2016 7:04 am

Could CO2 have influenced it? Sure. Did it? The authors argue that the cause of massive coal deposits in the late Paleozoic was favorable topography — lots of low, flat, wet, land capable of growing vast forests in settings where dead “trees” collected in thick layers in swamps. For more than you probably want to know about the Carboniferous, try this link For maps of where we think continents were, try this one

Reply to  Don K
February 5, 2016 11:46 am

Sure CO2 affected it :

“If you had 80 million years without lignin decay, you’d run out of CO2 in the atmosphere in a couple hundred years… we’d freeze the earth.”

They still think CO2 is the control knob of climate, even though the lag of CO2 after temperature change is well documented. This leads them to think that the existing data must be WRONG and needs “correcting”.
They start from the false premise that CO2 is the control knob of paleo-climate and they try to rewrite the data to explain the anomaly.
This kind of “science” is the new normal.

george e. smith
Reply to  DHR
February 5, 2016 10:42 am

Now you see, not having studied either biology or geology to any extent (I can tell what is rocks and what is food), the term ” Carboniferous Era ” to me implied the whole land surface area being overgrown with100 meter high tree ferns, as thick as a field of wheat, so dense that not even dinosaurs could get through it.
I thought it was a world full of plants, not an underground full of tunnels and little trolleys full of broken up coal.
I thought the coming of the coal, required the squishing of the plants under huge landslides and other geological pestilences, in a semi petrification process or maybe a putrification process.
Now I never had any basis for such wayward thoughts. Just never occurred to me to ask somebody. To me it was plant > wood > dead tree > peat bog > lignite coal > anthracite coal > steam trains > smoke > CO2 > …..climate change ?
Learn something new every day.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 5, 2016 10:46 pm

What dinosaurs?

Reply to  george e. smith
February 6, 2016 11:32 pm

@ George E Smith,Feb 5, 10.42 am: From the article: “The Carboniferous−Permian marks the greatest coal-forming interval in Earth’s history, contributing to glaciation and uniquely high oxygen concentrations at the time and fueling the modern Industrial Revolution” . They sure covered their behinds in one sentence and all of it over what time span? 500 million years? Wow.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 8, 2016 10:39 am

tobias smit-“They sure covered their behinds in one sentence and all of it over what time span? 500 million years? Wow.”
“The Carboniferous Period lasted from about 359.2 to 299 million years ago”(from graphic at top of article)
That equals 60.2 million years. Not 500 million.

Reply to  DHR
February 8, 2016 10:28 am

I think there’s a much bigger problem than how much CO2 was, or was not, in the air, that Boyce notes at the end-
Further, “That becomes a real problem,” said Boyce, “because people using [geology] from outside the field aren’t going to recognize who was ignoring what… These things have actual consequences.”
People using “climate models” from the outside have no idea what is being ignored or unstudied or even actually understood (or not) in ALL of the areas that form the Earth’s system. Those things have actual consequences, including destroying economies and killing people. Geologists take so much crap from pro AGW activists, as if the geology of the Earth has NOTHING to do with what happens in the atmosphere, or does not have any effect at all on the climate. Until the entire field of Earth Science comes together and participates in the discussion with full disclosure on both known and UNknown, no one should put any faith in global predictions or projections of “the future” state of this planet.

February 5, 2016 4:57 am

would seem science gets more UNsettled by the day/year 😉
also this one on oil today

Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 5, 2016 5:17 am

Interesting, although it is from 2008.

Reply to  ozspeaksup
February 5, 2016 6:03 am

The term “settled science” is a political construct.

george e. smith
Reply to  Stargazer
February 5, 2016 10:47 am

What clock resolves 359.2 or 299 million years BTP ??
Just asking.

Reply to  Stargazer
February 6, 2016 3:36 pm

I would have thought more an economic construct whereby the grants keep rolling in regularly and the recipients get settled in. However you can immediately see how any such debate over the particular importance of the political or economic construct here is very unsettling indeed.

February 5, 2016 5:09 am

Typo error ??
“You’re vry often at the edge of what you know yourself and ………

Pop Piasa
Reply to  Marcus
February 5, 2016 8:46 am

Also the title has the word Caboniferous.

February 5, 2016 5:13 am

For an alternate theory of oil/gas production see : “The Deep Hot Biosphere” by Thomas Gold

Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 5:16 am

Thumbs-up to that!

Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 5:35 am

Good read that!

Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 5:46 am

I would say Gold had an hypothesis he was never able to prove. I never met an oil and gas industry professional who thought he was even close. We had a good laugh when he convinced the swedes to drill for oil in an old impact crater.

Berényi Péter
Reply to  Fernando Leanme
February 5, 2016 6:39 am

Read it, please, first, would you?
There were hydrocarbons found in granite, so the drilling was a scientific success. Not a commercial one though, because the rock was not permeable enough.
Still laughing?

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
February 5, 2016 7:31 am

BP, drilling mud contaminated by oil from the mud pumps. NOT abiotic oil.

Reply to  Fernando Leanme
February 5, 2016 12:56 pm

Yes Peter, im sutil laughing. The article doesnt report they found oil. As far as i can tell they had pipe dope in the hole. Lets Putin it this way: you go find me an oil field made from abiotic sources in an impact cráter and I’ll stop laughing.

Paul of Alexandria
Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 6:00 am

Yes, but coal is rather different. You can often see the chunks of tree.

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
February 5, 2016 8:07 am

Oh those. They are abiotic wood chunks.

george e. smith
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
February 5, 2016 11:05 am

Coal is just muck that got carbonated rather than silicated.
If it had happened deep enough, we might have had diamond transistors before Silicon Valley got going.
PS…I’m right across the street from Moffett Field, at a coffee shop. There’s Black Hawk helicopters buzzing around across the street, and Feds all over the place. Nice chaps from the DHS.
They tell me that those helios are really as bad arse as they say they are; and they are having a lot of fun.
Supposably there’s some sort of “Please don’t Kick the Ball” footy game going to happen soon, down at Sunnyvale, where I live, and these chaps are going to keep the tailgate parties nice and civil. So if you want to kick up a ruckus, I would not pick this coffee shop to be a jerk. It might even be the safest place on earth for pigs to try flying again.
And these DHS chaps aren’t disguised as golf caddies either. They haven’t asked me about my CIA baseball cap that I’m wearing. Well everybody know that is the Culinary Institute of America, where (up in Napa) they teach people the proper way to poach eggs.

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
February 5, 2016 12:47 pm

George –

And these DHS chaps aren’t disguised as golf caddies either. They haven’t asked me about my CIA baseball cap that I’m wearing. Well everybody know that is the Culinary Institute of America, where (up in Napa) they teach people the proper way to poach eggs.


Samuel C Cogar
Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
February 6, 2016 7:00 am

@ Paul of Alexandria – February 5, 2016 at 6:00 am

You can often see the chunks of tree.

YUP, …. my neighbor up the street has part of a fossilized tree trunk, ….. approximately 12” (inches) in length and 12” (inches) in diameter …… that he cabbaged or extracted from a seam of Bituminous coal when he was working on a “strip-mining” job in central WV, USA.
HA, a fossilized tree trunk found buried in the center of a seam of Bituminous coal …… which was buried in the Appalachian Mountains under dozens of feet of dirt and rocks …….. makes for a “chicken or egg” problem for the above research authors, …….. right?

Reply to  Paul of Alexandria
February 8, 2016 10:47 am

george e. smith
“And these DHS chaps aren’t disguised as golf caddies either. They haven’t asked me about my CIA baseball cap that I’m wearing. Well everybody know that is the Culinary Institute of America, where (up in Napa) they teach people the proper way to poach eggs.”
Why would they ask you?

Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 6:05 am

February 5, 2016 at 5:13 am
For an alternate theory of oil/gas production see : “The Deep Hot Biosphere” by Thomas Gold
Developed from the Russian/Ukrainian theory of abiotic oil from the early 1950’s onward. Not without loud cries of plagiarism. But, nevertheless a good insight.

Jerry Howard
Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 6:11 am

Like many leading-edge theorists, Dr. Gold may have been on the right track, but arrived at a near-miss of the truth. His theory relied on the idea that microbes deep in the earth, analogous to life found near hydrothermal vents in the deep ocean. Very deep oil deposits might instead be due to chemical/geological processes.
It is one thing to consider coal and oil found near the surface to be “dinosaur juice” and quite something else to imagine that those dinosaurs and/or lignin producing woody plants somehow wound up a mile or two below the floor of the oceans.
The deepest producing oil field in the Gulf of Mexico currently has wells over a mile and a half deep and Russia is drilling several times that depth off Sakhalin Island.

Reply to  Jerry Howard
February 5, 2016 4:04 pm

Isn’t the ocean floor crust covered with biological droppings? It all gets subducted eventually.

Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 6:48 am

There is simply not enough nutrients in the deep ocean, let alone hot water, to produce oil/gas in the quantities we see. Instead, we have known for decades that the EM emissions from the Sun are wrong for supposedly being a hydrogen fusion engine. Sunspots being black highlights the fact that it is colder in the Sun than the surface, the opposite of what it should be if a fusion engine. If a fusion engine, the Sun’s subsurface should be brighter and hotter than the surface; it clearly is not.
So, we have fracking that works everywhere we drill deep enough, 7 to 12,000 feet, so deep, it was never near the surface. The Russians have been trying to tell us for decades that gas and oil come from Earth’s core. Emissions from the Sun’s and Earth’s core are compatible with neutron repulsion reactions that are 8 times the energy of fusion and the main product of this process involving neutron rich elements is carbon and hydrogen. Thus, it appears that Earth’s core and that of the other rocky planets are part of the remnants from an asymmetric supernova explosion, with the Sun being the major remnant.
And as the methane produced in the hot core percolates upward, hydrogen is lost to the surrounding molten liquid magma and such, leaving the carbons to bind to each other, forming ever larger and more complex hydrocarbons, i.e., natural gas and oil. As these core products are percolating upward everywhere and pool in some places when they hit nonporous strata, it is no wonder fracking works so well. It also says that gas and oil are a renewable resource, as opposed to the rare element demanding, non recyclable materials of wind turbines and solar panels.

Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 7:52 am

Also consider the Hydritic Earth hypothesis (Vladimir Larin) and Expanding Earth Hypothesis.
Dan Kurt

Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 8:16 am

Actually fracking only works everywhere there are organic rich layers of buried biotic hydrocarbons. The abiotic crowd has yet to explain how those abiotic hydrocarbons are so smart that they only percolate up and into layers of organic shale.

Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 8:20 am

the methane produced in the hot core
methane is the end product of the reduction of limestone and water in the presence of iron.
limestone + water + iron + heat + pressure = methane + quicklime + rust
CaCO3 + 2H2O + 2Fe = CH4 + CaO + 2FeO2
The limestone and water come from subduction due to plate techtonics. Limestone is created n large amounts on the ocean floor, from atmospheric CO2. The iron come from the earth’s core, and is plentiful because iron is the stable end product of both fusion and fission.
The methane can also be converted by heat and pressure to more complex hydrocarbons, all of which are lighter than water and purpolate upwards from the water/steam boundary deep within the earth’s mantle. Those hydrocarbons that are trapped by rock formations are what we drill for. The remained reaches the surface where it is consumed by microbes, releasing CO2 to complete the carbon cycle.

James at 48
Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 10:00 am

And similar processes apparently are seen in other sectors of the cosmos.

Terry Gednalske
Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 10:32 am

Higley7, I think you misunderstand the purpose of “fracking”. The use of hydraulic fracturing has little to do with how the hydrocarbon was formed, or the depth of the deposit. The primary purpose of the technique is to provide pathways (fractures) for fluid flow within low permeability reservoir rock. In some cases, it is used within the actual source rock, which is generally an organic rich, low permeability sediment. In those cases, it’s use is somewhat related to the origin of the hydrocarbon, but only coincidently. By the way, I know of no commercial oil or gas fields that are not associated with a biogenic source rock. I worked in Russia at a time that most Russians dogmatically believed in the abiotic origin of hydrocarbon, but I believe they are now beginning to accept the source rock theory.
I assume that, by “7 to 12,000 feet”, you mean 7,000 to 12,000 feet. It is not true that sediments at that depth were never near the surface. All sedimentary rock is deposited on the surface, including sea beds, then buried by more sediments, which can be much deeper than 12,000 ft. Hydraulic fracturing is sometimes used in reservoirs shallower than 7000 feet (where surface water contamination is not an issue), because it is mainly used to improve fluid flow in low permeability rock, which can occur at any depth.

george e. smith
Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 11:26 am

So just how deep into the sun’s subsurface have YOU been able to see to be able to certify that it isn’t brighter than the surface ??
If the solar chaps like Dr. S are correct about the surface being about 6,000 K, and properly emitting a nice near black body spectrum, peaking around 500 nm like Max Planck says, and if a little deeper it was say just 12,000 K, which is really quite cool, then that subsurface would presumably be peaked at 250 nm in the far UV, and we get no more than 1% of the sun’s radiant energy from shorter than that.
I can’t see much at 250 nm wavelength. At just a million K, the radiation would likely be peaking at 3 nm wavelength in the deep X-ray or gamma ray region.
Sunspots don’t look black to me, in the pictures I’ve seen. They look orange or red, just like the non sunspots, just not as bright. It’s just a camera trick to show them as black.

Reply to  higley7
February 5, 2016 1:24 pm

I think sunspots are actually very bright, just not compared to the rest of the sun. My bedroom window looks very dark from the outside during the day, even with the lights on in there, but very bright at night, with the same amount of light.

john harmsworth
Reply to  higley7
February 8, 2016 12:57 pm

I don’t exactly know what you are trying to say here. Sunspots aren’t actually “black”. They appear darker than the very brilliant solar surface because they are somewhat cooler. This does not mean that the surface is cooler than the interior. The hottest aspect of our sun is actually not any part of the sun itself but the solar corona- superheated by magnetic flux beyond the solar surface. I also don’t understand how repulsive neutron reactions can be more energetic than fusion which consumes mass- Mr. Einstein’s perfect formula for energy production.

Don K
Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 7:09 am

Yes, although in this case, the word “abiotic” in the title has nothing to do with “deep oil”. It says that geography, not the lack of microorganisms capable of busting up dead plants caused the late Paleozoic coal fields.

Reply to  Don K
February 5, 2016 9:59 am

worst. title. ever.

Gregg C.
Reply to  Don K
February 11, 2016 5:38 am

Yes. I kept reading for the abiotic part of the story but it wasn’t there. It was all about fungus or not, but the carbon was still from trees/etc.

Reply to  steve
February 5, 2016 2:41 pm

Ah yes. Dr Thomas Gold. Brilliant man and his insights, from what little I’ve explored. Like george e. smith above, I too believe I know the difference between rocks and food (but that’s about it!). However, going by just ‘feel’, abiotic production of petrochemicals seems…right. Meaning, no “Peak Oil” (save relevant wasteful overuse – there are a lot of us here and we all need, so y’know – conserve please!), as the reservoirs will replenish over time.
And as for ‘true sources’ – I’d touch on the other ‘third rail’ in this area of speculation – cataclysmic evolution – (read Electric Universe) – meaning there are very plausible scenarios wherein hydrocarbons in world-shaping volumes can be seen to be generated in the ‘proto-solar system’ – or even (w/o thank you going into ‘Young Earth’ realms) in more recent geologic times.
Ultimately, we know very little, or rather an extreme amount about certain specific things, but still miss the lignin-filled forests for the 100 M fern trees!
When we have world-famous solar scientists denying blue jets and red sprites and elves having ANY connection with transmission of electricity between we here and that big “nuclear furnace” (not) in the sky, my ‘appeals to authority’ are necessarily attenuated…if you follow.
Cue the hubris-possessed.

Proud Skeptic
February 5, 2016 5:14 am

Interesting debate. But in the end, there is no way to resolve it, is there? One wonders what the benefit is to spend money studying something like this.

Reply to  Proud Skeptic
February 5, 2016 5:49 am

Some of us make a living trying to figure out why and how fossil fuels get to where they are. It can be profitable. Others do it out of curiosity, it’s what drives us to support the construction of giant telescopes and pay for submarine archeologists.

george e. smith
Reply to  Fernando Leanme
February 5, 2016 11:33 am

A sort of ” Because it’s there ! ” philosophy.
I like that. So there can be no end to the process of learning.

Reply to  Proud Skeptic
February 5, 2016 8:23 am

there is no way to resolve it, is there
if natural gas is biotic, there will be less of it at depth than at the surface. If it is abiotic it will be as common at depth as at the surface. This has huge implications for future supplies.

Reply to  ferdberple
February 5, 2016 1:03 pm

Not really. Most people cha sing the abiotic sources dont understand the business very well. Im not about to start teaching a seminar, but to put it simply, we have drilled the hell out of the earth and we have a very good idea about what’s going on. We also know that high temperature and pressure degrades natural gas into CO2, that rock quality gets much worse as we drill deeper, and that deeper means more expensive. There are limits.

Reply to  Proud Skeptic
February 5, 2016 4:52 pm

It’s always a good thing to cast doubt on dubious assumptions.

February 5, 2016 5:21 am

The title could be unintentionally misunderstood. It sounds like research demonstrated that coal itself (and not the COAL DEPOSIT forming process) comes from abiotic sources — like the idea that deep oil is produced geochemically. The paper actually casts doubt on the idea that absence of fungi was the mechanism that allowed carbon build-up.

Reply to  Gary
February 5, 2016 1:27 pm

Attempts to cast doubt.
It has not created any doubts in my mind.
I can name five holes in this attempt at an historical rewrite, right off the top of my head.

February 5, 2016 5:29 am

Lignite deposits are much younger, so when they formed, lignin degradation had certainly evolved. That is a knock against that theory right there.

Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 5:34 am

Hear was the real laugher for me. When they were discussing the fact that without lignin breakdown we would run out of CO2, their warmists bonafides came blazing through in the line

…We’d freeze the planet

as if the lack of CO2 would somehow cause the planet to freeze when CO2 is the lowest concentration greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Besides, the trees could not use ALL the CO2 since photosynthesis stops in the high 100 to low 200 ppm concentration level.

Owen in GA
Reply to  Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 5:40 am

got to watch my fingers-brain interface…here rather than hear. though I was reading it out loud so I guess I could have heard it too…and other lame excuses.

Mike Bromley the Kurd
Reply to  Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 5:44 am


Eric Barnes
Reply to  Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 5:48 am

It’s such a moronic statement. Running out of CO2 would mean much worse than potentially freezing the planet.

Don K
Reply to  Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 7:17 am

OK. You’d probably prefer the theory that low CO2 would cut off plant growth and thus terminate coal production.
Either way, there is a problem because the planet seems to have somehow blundered along even while sequestering massive amounts of Carbon in inaccessible rock formations.
BTW. There is a lot of evidence for glaciations at the time the late Paleozoic coal deposits were being laid down Here’s a chart of the conventional thinking. comment image

Reply to  Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 1:12 pm

I was amused by the attributional lingo . . taking the collectivist mentality to new depths ; )

Reply to  Owen in GA
February 5, 2016 1:39 pm

No matter what mechanism allowed the coal to form, there is still the same amount of coal, and the carbon all came out of the CO2 in the atmosphere, so this “problem” with CO2 depletion in the standard view is not solved or even slightly altered by the contentions tossed out in this paper.
A coal bed 100 feet thick required the same amount of CO2 be removed from the air at the time the plants grew, no matter how the coal was formed.
Besides, they seem to have overlooked that back during the carboniferous there was still lightning, and the air was much higher in oxygen (courtesy of all those plants), and so fires that liberated CO2 back into the air would have been common. The coal we have is the stuff that avoided being burned.
And a lot of the coal that did form and exist underground was burned at various times in the intervening years, as coal beds became exposed to the atmosphere and were ignited by fires.
There must have been some bigguns (coal fires) at various points in time.
The thickest coal beds ever formed burned up in fires…we have what is left.
Notice there are no places where extensive coal deposits exist right at the surface…it would be just a matter of time before it was ignited once exposed (and yes, I know that some veins of coal can be seen here and there, exposed on the surface…but they are thin).
I do believe many of those buttes and mesa out in the western US are what was left after massive coal beds burned away.
And then there is CO2 being belched by volcanoes…presumably more common long ago before much of the Earths surface carbon became locked away in limestone and coal and other stuff.

Reply to  Menicholas
February 5, 2016 9:20 pm

Interesting remarks, but I can think of a few problems with your buttes and mesa theory:
1) Continental lift has been steady, as proved by generally persistent river courses that cut right through mountain ranges as they form.
2) Huge coal fires would be intermittent.
3) If they were as big as you seem to suggest, they would cause some serious O2 depletion, not seen in amber samples.
But I like the way you think. –AGF

Reply to  Menicholas
February 7, 2016 6:55 am

And where are all the Ashes/clinkers? There are exposed coal seams up in Alaska, just smoldering away.
Coal carries it’s own supply of O2. How much coal and oil has been ignited by volcanos punching up through strata?
One curious mention by Thomas Gold is that coal, gas, and oil are often found co-located one above the other, with Coal usually at the upper reaches, with Oil, & gas, below the coal.

February 5, 2016 5:37 am

I never heard about the “lag hypothesis” – right since my school days I always imagined an abiotic process. The pictures imagining it all always showed huge swamps with masses of vegetation. But I am not a scientist, of course.

Reply to  AndyE
February 7, 2016 7:14 am

I think you mean ‘biotic.’ Abiotic meaning largely non-biological. From my layman geology aficionado POV, I think the following to be a possible explanation: We know that Abiotic Methane is formed in Mantle processes. It oozes up through the relatively thin deep ocean sediments to form clathrates on the sea-floor. Since mid-late-carboniferous saw the break-up of Pangea, ergo: a more tectonically active world, abiotic methane could have percolated up through the massive plant deposits, and reacted with same to carbonize the deposits into Coals. This the abiotic half of Coal. The other half is the biotically provided dead plant substrate which was required to form the coal. This may also explain the sulphates and heavy metals contents found in some coals. Or I could be wrong, and actually have no idea what I am saying here. 😉

Aarne H
Reply to  lectrikdog
February 10, 2016 8:19 am

Methane Hydrates are biogenic for the most part- generated by microbial and thermogenic processes. There are Hydrates formed through abiotic methods (most common is Serpentinization). These are differentiated by isotope/geochem analysis. Hydrates are an odd duck, formed globally under higher pressures & low temps.
Coal, Oil and gas deposits are all biogenic in origin (with the exception of simple hydrocarbons created thru Serpentinization etc). Associated minerals in coal can formed through hydrothermal activity (oxidation/reduction).

February 5, 2016 5:37 am

Fluosilicic acids play havoc with all lignins.
Maybe there was an abundance of fluorine!!!!
Just guessing – as did the good Stanford geos………………….

Reply to  toorightmate
February 5, 2016 1:44 pm

Fire burns it all, regardless how interlocked and tangled and thus hard to digest that lignin was.

Mike Bromley the Kurd
February 5, 2016 5:43 am

Explain peat. Explain the overabundance of plant fossil morphs.

February 5, 2016 5:54 am

I think we must be very careful about interpreting what Boyce meant by “abiotic”. I think Gary is correct – this is not the same as the “abiotic” hypothesis of oil formation. The origin of all that coal is still believed to be vegetation.
From a paper from 2012
“A frequently cited explanation for this phenomenon [large coal deposits] is that decay was inhibited in the anoxic sediments of the widespread Permo-Carboniferous swamp forests. Our results are consistent with a complementary hypothesis (2), which posits that the sharp decline in the rate of organic carbon burial at the end of the Permo-Carboniferous was caused, at least in part, by the evolution of lignin decay capabilities in white rot Agaricomycetes.”
As recently as 2012, the “abiotic” hypothesis was clearly going strong. The lignin decay hypothesis is described as a complementary hypothesis.
This is not overturning an accepted paradigm, but one more piece of evidence in an evolving field. Their comment “Paleozoic coal abundance was likely the result of a unique combination of everwet tropical conditions and extensive depositional systems during the assembly of Pangea” just seems to be coming down on the side of the frequently cited swamp hypothesis. Whilst interesting, there is no huge story here.

Reply to  seaice1
February 5, 2016 7:42 am

Yep. There are a lot of confusing terms.
Rather than using biotic, abiotic, biogenic or abiogenic, the “debate” should be organic vs inorganic hydrocarbon sourcing.
Biogenic methane is the direct result of the decay of organic matter. The natural gas produced from oil & gas wells is thermogenic methane and heavier hydrcarbons. The source material was organic; but the process of generating the hydrocarbons was not biogenic.
The authors of this paper are not asserting that the source material for the coal was inorganic.

george e. smith
Reply to  David Middleton
February 5, 2016 11:42 am

I thought ” organic ” meant carbon chemistry, as distinct from the chemistries of the other 91 natural elements, and the Anthropogenic elements. Coal being carbon, must be organic; but not necessarily bionic or not necessarily being unbionic.

Reply to  David Middleton
February 5, 2016 12:10 pm

Organic means that carbon is bound to hydrogen. Algal lipids are organic.
Inorganic means that carbon isn’t bound to hydrogen. Carbon dioxide is inorganic.

Reply to  David Middleton
February 8, 2016 11:45 am

David Middleton said-
“Organic means that carbon is bound to hydrogen. Algal lipids are organic.
Inorganic means that carbon isn’t bound to hydrogen. Carbon dioxide is inorganic.”
Huh? Carbon bound to hydrogen = hydrocarbon. Carbon not bound to hydrogen = non-hydrocarbon. But there are plenty of things that are non-hydrocarbons that ARE considered organic. Something doesn’t have to have to be bound to hydrogen to be called “organic”, but it DOES have to contain carbon.
wiki-Inorganic compounds-
“An inorganic compound is a compound that is not Organic. The term is not well defined, but in its simplest definition refers simply to compounds that do not contain carbon, and not consisting of or deriving from living matter. Inorganic compounds are traditionally viewed as being synthesized by the agency of geological systems. In contrast, organic compounds are found in biological systems. The distinction between inorganic and organic compounds is not always clear. Organic chemists traditionally refer to any molecule containing carbon as an organic compound and by default this means that inorganic chemistry deals with molecules lacking carbon. As many minerals are of biological origin, biologists may distinguish organic from inorganic compounds in a different way that does not hinge on the presence of a carbon atom. Pools of organic matter, for example, that have been metabolically incorporated into living tissues persist in decomposing tissues, but as molecules become oxidized into the open environment, such as atmospheric CO2, this creates a separate pool of inorganic compounds. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, an agency widely recognized for defining chemical terms, does not offer definitions of inorganic or organic. Hence, the definition for an inorganic versus an organic compound in a multidisciplinary context spans the division between organic life living (or animate) and inorganic non-living (or inanimate) matter.”
wiki organic compounds-
“An organic compound is any member of a large class of gaseous, liquid, or solid chemical compounds whose molecules contain carbon. For historical reasons discussed below, a few types of carbon-containing compounds, such as carbides, carbonates, simple oxides of carbon (such as CO and CO2), and cyanides are considered inorganic.The distinction between organic and inorganic carbon compounds, while “useful in organizing the vast subject of chemistry… is somewhat arbitrary”.”
You can consider and discuss CO2 as “inorganic” or “organic”, but it’s’ an arbitrary distinction, and it has nothing to do with being “bound to hydrogen” or not.

February 5, 2016 5:57 am

Thankyou for posting this, but I don’t think it changes much.
The above synopsis says

Throughout the fossil record, evidence of decay is pervasive in all organic matter exposed subaerially during deposition, and high coal accumulation rates have continued to the present wherever environmental conditions permit.

The asserted “evidence of decay” is not relevant because “high coal accumulation rates have continued to the present wherever environmental conditions permit”.
I ran a laboratory which conducted maceral analysis. I know as certain fact that each and every stage of coalification is observed to be happening now, or – to rephrase that – “high coal accumulation rates have continued to the present wherever environmental conditions permit”.
When a process is observed to exist and explains its observed outcome then there is no need for an alternative explanation of the outcome.
The synopsis says the paper’s conclusion is

Rather than a consequence of a temporal decoupling of evolutionary innovations between fungi and plants, Paleozoic coal abundance was likely the result of a unique combination of everwet tropical conditions and extensive depositional systems during the assembly of Pangea.

No such “decoupling” is required but the “everwet tropical conditions and extensive depositional systems” may have assisted – and probably would have assisted – the coalification. The synopsis reports this as being an either/or but that is false: the lignin-rich material may have occurred while the moisture and deposition also happened.
The essay reports Boyce claiming the either/or is required because

“Even if plants were less productive then, there’s probably a good three or so gigatons of lignin being produced per year,” and “If you had 80 million years without lignin decay, you’d run out of CO2 in the atmosphere in a couple hundred years… we’d freeze the earth.”

Not so, the oceans contain immense amounts of CO2 which they would release to the atmosphere if the relative atmospheric partial pressure were to fall substantially.

Reply to  richardscourtney
February 7, 2016 7:20 am

“immense amounts of CO2 which they would release to the atmosphere if the relative atmospheric partial pressure were to fall substantially.”
Or if you heat up the oceans, with submarine volcanism.

Reply to  lectrikdog
February 7, 2016 10:02 am

Yes, but the volcanic heating of oceans is merely a possibility. Reduce the CO2 in the air and the partial pressure of CO2 in the air certainly would reduce.

Reply to  richardscourtney
February 8, 2016 12:25 pm

The authors of this particular paper are arguing against what they state as being the previous-decades old hypothesis concerned ONLY WITH the massive amounts of coal accumulation that occurred during the Carboniferous Period. They define that hypothesis the following way:
“The previous hypothesis of coal accumulation focused on a temporal lag between the evolution of lignin production in woody plants and the evolution of lignin-degrading fungi to break down this new material. This would have resulted in the non-degraded lignin building up, depositing massive amounts of coal.”
In other words, the prevailing hypothesis they are arguing AGAINST is related ONLY to the Carboniferous Period and that hypothesis is/was that woody plants at that time began to develop lignin as a defensive function (against being eaten by predators) but the fungi that could break down that lignin had not evolved yet. So there was a build up of non-degraded/broken down lignin on the surface that eventually got buried and resulted in huge coal deposits. They call it the “evolutionary lag theory”.
The authors state-“But [this explanation] can’t be true,” Boyce said.
At that time period also had an enormous amount of geological activity going on in which vast amounts of lignin based plants were buried. The article goes on-
“Their paper also includes a graph displaying the accumulation of organic sediments over time. Rather than showing a steady increase over the Carboniferous Period, the graph has many spikes of accumulation, each of which lasts around 500,000 years.
“If that was fungi, what would they do? Evolve, un-evolve, and then evolve back?” Boyce said. “The actual record of accumulation doesn’t really work for it being a biotic cause. It looks much more grounded in abiotic processes.”
“Throughout the fossil record, evidence of decay is pervasive in all organic matter exposed subaerially during deposition, and high coal accumulation rates have continued to the present wherever environmental conditions permit. ”
So when you say “The asserted “evidence of decay” is not relevant because “high coal accumulation rates have continued to the present wherever environmental conditions permit”.”
It IS HIGHLY relevant to THEIR study/paper/hypothesis because evidence of decay means that lignin eating fungi HAD already evolved prior to the Carboniferous Period which disproves the prior “non-decay/evolutionary lag theory”-AND supports their claim that the massive amounts of coal deposited during that time period (which also show fungi decay) could only be explained by massive geological turmoil during that period.

February 5, 2016 6:26 am

CO2 fertilization must have been a factor. Warm, shallow freshwater swamp plus CO2 in the 3,000 ppm range creates conditions for rapid plant growth. Organic material is then submerged below the surface and preserved from oxidation. At the end if the Carboniferous CO2 had decreased to ~200 ppm.

February 5, 2016 6:43 am

If hydrocarbons literally rain from the sky on Titan, Saturn’s moon, then why do we still think that oil and coal are made from rotting ferns and dinosaurs?

Don K
Reply to  Groty
February 5, 2016 7:33 am

“then why do we still think that oil and coal are made from rotting ferns”
Well, the fact that coal fields tend to have a LOT of fossils of “ferns” and other plants in them might have something to do with it.
I think most folks who have an opinion think that the early Earth probably looked a lot like a warm Titan. But once life (somehow) evolved, the tiny critters ate all the organic molecules they could find and digest. Then there was a long pause — several billion years — while essentially all the dissolved Iron in the oceans was precipitated out by reacting with Oxygen formed by photosynthesis. Finally, all the iron was gone and Oxygen started to accumulate. And … viola … the modern Earth.
Could methane (natural gas) still be bubbling up from the interior of the Earth? Sure.; Very likely it is. Hard to detect though. Why not abiotic oil as well? Because oil consists of long chain hydrocarbons that tend to bust up when heated. The interior of the Earth is pretty warm. There is a concept embraced by most(?) all(?) petroleum geologists called the “oil window” Basically, it says that if rocks have been too hot for too long, any hydrocarbons you find there will be natural gas, not oil.

Reply to  Groty
February 5, 2016 7:38 am

Because titan is a gas moon, and earth is a rocky planet. Oil and gas come mainly from the thermal catagenisis of marine kerogen (algal remains) source rock shales. Minor amountsmof abiotic gas can form under unusual geological conditions, like yhe methane hydrates atbthe bottom of the Framm strait. Coal is mainly terrestrial plant remains, including fossil proofs.

Reply to  ristvan
February 5, 2016 11:09 pm

Titan is a moon of a gas planet but it is not a gas moon. It has a surface.

Reply to  Groty
February 5, 2016 7:52 am

And produced oil contains long chain fossil hydrocarbon molecules known as biomarkers which are found in living algae etc.

george e. smith
Reply to  Groty
February 5, 2016 11:47 am

I wouldn’t go to Titan and risk being eaten by a fern after strangulation.

Reply to  george e. smith
February 8, 2016 12:29 pm

“Feed me Seymour!”

Gary Pearse
February 5, 2016 6:58 am

” temporal lag between the evolution of abundant lignin production in woody plants and the subsequent evolution of lignin-degrading Agaricomycetes fungi, resulting in a period when vast amounts of lignin-rich plant material accumulated. ”
I obviously did my geology (to the Masters level) before the goofy lignin degrading fungi idea came into existence and I never heard tell of it until this article. It was firmly believed for a 100 years before my student days that the process was abiotic so the work by Stanford Geo’s was just a late rejection of a stupid theory that few mature geologists believed in. The Stanford guys put in Pangea and tectonic mumbo jumbo to make it seem fresh and new – it’s an old hand waving trick. Here is an article from Stanford’s neighbor which recounts how the theory was before the “lazy pre-lignin toadstool theory” and apparently is still taught at Berkeley as I remember it:
“..Coal beds, which can be up to 11 to 12 meters thick, characterize the late Carboniferous. The forests of seedless vascular plants that existed in the tropical swamp forests of Europe and North America provided the organic material that became coal. Dead plants did not completely decay and were turned to peat in these swamp forests. When the sea covered the swamps, marine sediments covered the peat. Eventually, heat and pressure transformed these organic remains into coal. Coal balls, pockets of plant debris that were preserved as fossils and not converted to coal, are sometimes found within the coal layers.
Multiple transgressions and regressions of the Pennsylvanian seas across the continent can be seen in the rocks, and even counted, because they leave a telltale sequence of layers. As sea levels rise, the layers may go from sandstone (beach), to silty shale or siltstone (tidal), to freshwater limestone (lagoon), to underclay (terrestrial), to coal (terrestrial swampy forest). Then as sea levels fall, one may see a shale (nearshore tidal) grade to limestone (shallow marine) and finally to black shale (deep marine).”
That’s pretty much the whole story. How do these goofy overly erudite studies and ideas like lignin munching ‘toadstools’ come to be anyway:
1) like today’s science with no ‘relativity’ grade science being done and the population of scientists having reached tens of millions, a lot of idle hands are looking for relevance (they just been ordered to lay off 350! (that’s three hundred and fifty) climate scientists from the CSIRO in Australia!! I don’t wonder 60 theories springing up in days to explain the pause!
2) Let me guess that the ‘toadstool theory of coal’ which apparently just got shot down (no wonder it was ignored by geologists) came out of the UK – where people in lab coats and horn-rimmed glasses overwhelmed and replaced bowler hats and brollies fifty years ago. Old geologists like me in a lifetime have mapped the geology of areas bigger than the UK. These guys don’t have enough to do! Why is it that the most hairbrained theories including the CAGW stuff is largely the work of Anglo Saxon culture around the world?

Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 5, 2016 7:25 am

Who says they are Anglo Saxons? CAGW isn’t in any shape form or fashion Anglo Saxon culture. Eastern European perhaps.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  rishrac
February 5, 2016 7:55 am

UEA (University of East Anglia) where most this CAGW stuff was invented, the UK Met Office – a major provider of manufactured temperature data, NOAA, NASA/GISS, executive chefs in the warming kitchen and providers of 90% of the satellites, Australia, the most oversupplied country of climate scientists – gathered on the beach they could be mistaken for an emperor penguin flock from an airplane….CSIRO has been ordered to lay off…… wait for it….350 climate scientists. Thousands of Universities and institutions across the US, UK, Canada, Australia….have 100’s of thousands of professors and students of the muck. Trust me, although their populations have many different ethnicities, it is an Anglo Saxon cultured virus.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 5, 2016 9:21 pm

I can only tell you my view of the situation. Perhaps the institutions and the people have to match. A common view and history to make those institutions work the way they should. To me, those people aren’t Anglo Saxon, it’s not customary. It violates every belief, value and custom up to and including trying to force a dictatorship down our throats via alarmist threats. that so far should have materialized, but haven’t. They made predictions/projections 15 and 25 years ago. They are saying the same thing, the only difference is now it’s 2030 or 2100 not 2015. 2015 came and went. You know global warming causes dogs to be depressed.
I think we can agree that they are a can short of a six pack.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  rishrac
February 5, 2016 7:56 am

East Europeans are an enclave of common sense in EU. They are all against this craziness of self immolation.

Reply to  rishrac
February 8, 2016 12:46 pm

“Simple Definition of Anglo–Saxon: a member of the Germanic people who conquered Britain in the fifth century A.D., a person whose ancestors were English”
And it does seem like many of the “scientists” who are pushing the CAGW theory are from the UK or were educated there. Just sayin’

Reply to  Aphan
February 9, 2016 5:37 am

Remember the shoe bomber? Last name Reid? Just saying… not really Anglo was he?

Reply to  rishrac
February 9, 2016 10:37 am

Actually rishrac, Reid was born and raised in Britain and his mother was white and English, so yes, he was Anglo Saxon! His father is mixed race, but half Jamaican, not middle eastern. He radicalized and became muslim while incarcerated in England.
But the shoe bomber is irrelevant to this discussion on harebrained scientific theories anyway.

Reply to  Aphan
February 9, 2016 12:08 pm

It’s useless for me to argue. Not necessarily because I’m hairbrained.

george e. smith
Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 5, 2016 12:26 pm

The latest issue of ” Optics and Photonics ” a freebie journal of The Optical Society of America, which is a part of the American Institute of Physics, (I can’t afford the non-freebie journals) has a featured article by a Swiss Post-Post-Doc Fellow, PhD Graduate of some University or other, about how She, and her Mate finally were able to arrive at communal bliss both living together on the same continent at the same time and both being ” employed ” at paying ” jobs “, she, at some Swiss academic institution (will not name here) and he now having his ” job ” , well at least he has an ” office ” somewhere in the neighborhood of her ” research ” facility.
Well the subject of her story is how two persons working in the same field can both land paying jobs at the same institute (hopefully) , at a tenured and salaried post with presumably research grant money. How many academinstitutes simultaneously have two top jobs in the same field at the same site ??
Well of course I’m happy; simply delighted that she and her significant other have resolved their own personal situation to their satisfaction; BUT !!
I found myself (last night after reading this) asking this question.
Howcum, here in Silicon Valley we have maybe millions of individuals comprising all of the 57 known genders, and assembled into at least 57 x 56 different ” domestic partnerships ” and pretty much all of them fully gainfully employed in either exactly the same field, or anyone of the near infinity of job classifications we have in Si Valley, and pretty much all of them (perhaps in pairs) cohabiting in the same structure, let alone on the same continent, without any problem at all.
In fact most sivalley establishments will not employ two persons involved in the same cohabiting pairing, for fear that a layoff might accidently deprive both of them simultaneously of their means of self support, and that of any descendants, for those types of gender pairings that enpossibleize the existence of any descendants at all.
Maybe the lady author of that essay, should have asked why is she studying something that is only of use in an environment where other innocents can be induced to study the same dead end subject matter.
Hereabouts, when somebody gets laid off, they just park their car on the other side of the parking lot, and go to work at another place. No need to all work in the same going nowhere place.

Reply to  Gary Pearse
February 5, 2016 2:04 pm

The idea Gary, is just that coal was easier to form then because the enzymes capable of digesting lignin had not yet evolved. It can still happen today, but under a more narrow set of conditions.
Oxygen content of the atmosphere is much lower now than it was then, and so it would have been harder, not easier, to find a place where anoxic conditions existed. Not sure how much harder, but at least somewhat.
Even today, there are very few organisms which have the ability to digest and degrade cellulose and lignin. If it was easy for these enzymes to evolve, we might expect to see more creatures capable of eating this huge and nearly ubiquitous energy source. So I do not doubt that these enzymes too some time to evolve.
The authors seem to be trying to claim that lignin digesting enzymes existed at the same time plants evolved the ability to make lignin…and maybe they did…but maybe not. See above. Most enzymes are very specific in the reactions they catalyze, and so why would these enzymes have evolved prior to lignin?
Another point made by the author seems easy to find a hole in…their assertion that to explain the episodic pattern of coal formation would have only been possible if fungi learned and then unlearned how to produce the necessary enzymes…but a much simpler explanation is the there was an evolutionary arms race, in which plants developed better lignin, more easily able to resist decay, and the fungi eventually overcoming the advances by the plants with newer and better forms of the enzymes.
The incredible complexity of lignin may have been very unlikely to evolve all at once…plants would have an evolutionary reason to only make it as complex as needed to avoid being readily digested. What we see today is the end result of an evolutionary back and forth which played out long ago, and plants are still for the most part ahead, given how hard it is for anything to eat wood or bark.

Reply to  Menicholas
February 5, 2016 2:11 pm

Lignin structure:comment image
Note that in modern plants, lignin and cellulose and hemicellulose exist all mixed up, and individual molecules of each are all tangled, making it difficult for an enzyme to get in and degrade the molecules…the enzyme that degrades lignin runs into cellulose fibers, and hits a brick wall, ditto with cellulose degrading enzymes hitting some lignin molecules and being halted. It make the degradation process slow. It seems likely plants evolved this structure over time as a defense as fungi became more readily able to digest the polymers.

Reply to  Menicholas
February 5, 2016 5:21 pm

Obviously, woody plants evolved to satisfy a need for cheap housing.

Reply to  Menicholas
February 6, 2016 9:10 am

There is no selective advantage for plants to evolve fungal resistant lignin once they are dead. It might even be a disadvantage as nutrient recycling benefits the plants.
On the other hand, the authors’ claim that the variation in deposition reflects opening of ocean basins betrays a lack of understanding of tectonic time scales. Ocean basins do not open up on half million year, but rather tens of million year scales.comment image
Above the continents according to Christopher Scotese are time stepped through the Carboniferous with (pink) 340, (tan) 320, and (blueish) 300 mya.

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 7:32 am

Hydrocarbons have perked up from deep within the earth’s crust since the the earth’s
beginning. The layers of carbonaceous rock testify to that. There has been a more or
less continuous supply of CO2.
The thing that makes the carboniferous confusing us the lack of understanding of
the effect of the sedentary rock layers laid down over accumulations of plant material.
The impervious layer of sediment stopped the up welling hydrocarbons, allowing them
to “petrify” the plant material, much the same as the trees in the “petrified forest” were
preserved by another mineral. The up welling hydrocarbons carried up heavy metals
including radio active material which they passed through on their way up, depositing
them in the coal.
Another confusing thing is the lack of a reliable CO2 record over time. Gases migrate
in ice layers and change when drilled. I consider leaf stomata the only reliable CO2
gauge. Zbigniew Jaworiowski did some great work on the CO2 record.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 8:11 am

Jerry, the coal measures have an abundance of carbonized fossil trees in them and all the carbon they need with the nature of a fetid swampy forest sitting on ages of accumulation of anerobic dead tree carbon. All you need is the sea to rise, ostensibly due to tectonic activity which raised some areas and submerged others. The submerged swampy forest in an active tectonic area would soon get buried under mud and silt, sealing off oxygen and bacterial action and successive layers of limestones, sandstones and shales would squeeze and heat this layer up. We make charcoal today by heating wood in conditions excluding oxygen. I think you are confusing the theory of abiotic formation of oil (which I’m not yet convinced of).

February 5, 2016 7:55 am

They don’t seem to address that most of our massive coal mines feeding our power plants are mining younger Cretaceous coal, deposited with an entirely different paleogeographic setting.

Don K
Reply to  Doug
February 5, 2016 8:29 am

Actually, I think they did. Look into the middle of the Press Release well beyond the EHGO (Eyes Have Glazed Over) point for most normal humans:

Boyce and Nelsen looked at the coal accumulation in Denver around 50 million years ago as a model to explain the 300-million-year-old phenomenon of Carboniferous accumulation.
“It was equivalently productive and wet, and a lot of coal formed because the incipient Rocky Mountains were there so there was a place to put all the coal,” Boyce said. “So the local rates of accumulation were similar to what was going on worldwide during the Carboniferous.”

Gary Pearse
February 5, 2016 8:37 am

As I suspected, the silly toadstool theory of coal formation and preservtation is relatively recent:
National Science Foundation
June 28, 2012
“A new study — which includes the first large-scale comparison of fungi that cause rot decay — suggests that the evolution of a type of fungi known as white rot may have brought an end to a 60-million-year-long period of coal deposition known as the Carboniferous period.”
Also as I suspected above: the first mention of the toadstool’s handiwork with coal was by and Anglo Saxon:
Corner EJH (1964)
The Life of Plants,
It is a bit earlier than I thought (but still after I got my degree!) and probably it didn’t become mainstream for a long time afterwards (NSF calls it new in 2012).
This Stanford study is part of the new paradigm of claiming a new discovery out of frustration from the evidently hyperbolic dwindling opportunities to make important new discoveries. So they throw up a smoke screen of splitting continents, etc. to deflect from the simple fact that the old theory of abiotic preservation of coal is fully adequate, supported with oodles of strong evidence and widely accepted by most geologists. Note they also put another diaphanous layer of mental fog by explaining why geologists have been lazy in not standing up against this toadstool theory. This is what a poker player calls a ‘tell’. The real reason that it hasn’t been a big debate is few people bought into the magic toadstool in first place and the Stanford new discovery is the old one that has withstood the test of time.

February 5, 2016 8:48 am

The time we’re living in now should be called the Anthrocarboniferous period. 🙂

Reply to  Logoswrench
February 5, 2016 1:36 pm

Carboneferious period of the lower Fantascene says my inner poet ; )

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 9:00 am

The attached depiction of the Baaken in plan view and in cross section is a visual of what
actually happens in more recent formations.
Up welling hydrocarbons caused or utilized the rise in the middle to trap and accumulate
large quantities of gas and oil. As the impermeable layers of sediment attenuate,
one can see my findings and additions to Gold and Mendeleev’s theories, Namely
that upland top soil, in the presence of adequate moisture, owes its richness to the
amount of natural gas which perks up through it.
The Canadian soil map readily illustrates the way the amount of hydrocarbons which
perk through the soil, in the presence of adequate moisture, enrich the soil.
Where the layer of sedentary rock is nearly impermeable, as in the center of the rise,
the soil is less rich, excepting the soil directly over the fault. As the layers of sedentary
rock thin out and curve up out toward the edges of the old lake bed, the seeping
hydrocarbons make the soil a great deal richer.
If this has happened much farther in the past and if there has been layers of plant
material, they would have fossilized and over further time, the lighter hydrocarbons
would have evaporated, leaving coal.

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 9:25 am

Cause is often confused with effect. In the case of the deep, rich soil of the mid western
US, tall grass is thought to have created the soil.
The soil was created by the large amount of natural gas which up wells through it. Tall
grass being the dominate plant when the land was settled was there by natural selection.
The grass with the deepest roots survived the most droughts and fires, becoming
Simply finding fossils in some coal does not make it “fossil fuel”

Don K
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 10:03 am

Methinks you should go spend some time looking at coal fields and surface exposures of oil and gas bearing formations. Pick nice Spring and Fall days. No point in freezing/baking your tush off. Once you get to know the rocks, they will probably speak to you. It’ll take a while. Their story will almost certainly NOT be what you expect to hear.
If nothing else, you’ll probably find some interesting rocks, bugs, plants, and critters.

Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 1:42 pm

Jerry Henson:
You say

Simply finding fossils in some coal does not make it “fossil fuel”

Say what!?
All coals consist entirely of fossilised, compressed parts of plants and forest fires. Additionally and unusually, some large, uncompressed fossils are enclosed within coal.
The different fossilised parts of plants are called macerals and individual coal seams can be identified by determining the proportions of macerals in the coal: this is called maceral analysis.

Reply to  richardscourtney
February 5, 2016 6:55 pm


Richard G.
Reply to  richardscourtney
February 6, 2016 12:14 am

People need to be clear in their understanding and use of the word fossilized. In the case of plant fossils Fossilization is the translocation and/or mineralization of tissue structures with secondary minerals. When we see a sample of opalized wood we intuitively understand that the original tree was not made of silica rock, that the original tissues were mineralized. Gold’s suggestion was that the fossilized coal has been mineralized with carbon, enriched if you will, through the percolation and dehydration of methane and CO2. Peat bogs plus methane precipitating carbon into the fossils. I was initially very skeptical but have grown to entertain the possibility.
I recently came across a second possible pathway for abiotic methane through Serpentinization:
“Magnetite, chromite, and metal-rich minerals commonly found on olivine surfaces are likely to catalyze methane formation at lower temperatures than otherwise possible a finding that expands the range of environments plausible for abiotic CH4 formation on Earth and elsewhere.
Understanding CH4 and H2 formation processes at low temperatures is important to research about the origin and cause of early Earth and Martian CH4 as well as for CO2 sequestration. The weathering of olivine has been suggested to account for abiotic formation of CH4 through its redox lowering and water splitting properties. Therefore, in a recent study [1], researchers conducted a series of low-temperature, long-term experiments to test the CH4 and H2 formation potential of forsteritic olivine. Available sources of organic carbon were not enough to account for the CH4 detected in the experiments. There also was a linear relationship between silica release into solution and the net CH4 accumulation, suggesting that the CH4 formed under these conditions could be a qualitative indicator of olivine dissolution. The low temperature of the system indicated the catalyzing role of the minerals found on the olivine surfaces.”

Lewis P Buckingham
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 7:56 pm

Grazing pressure from large herbivores destroyed the tree cover and encouraged the grasslands.
Grasses can handle having the top of the plant being eaten off, as they grow from below.
Trees are destroyed when ringbarked.
Today flocks and herds of sheep, goats and cattle do the same.

Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 6, 2016 1:41 am

Richard G.:
This sub-thread is about coal and all coals consist entirely of fossilised, compressed parts of plants and forest fires with some contaminating ash minerals.
You start your post saying

People need to be clear in their understanding and use of the word fossilized.

Then you go on about methane (i.e. natural gas) and not coal.
Whatever the merits of Gold’s assertions concerning the formations of oil and gas, he was completely and utterly wrong about the formation of coal.

William Astley
February 5, 2016 9:45 am

There are two theories to explain how water and hydrocarbons came onto the earth: the late veneer theory and the deep CH4 theory. Roughly 100 million years after the earth was formed a Mars sized object struck the earth. That event formed the moon and stripped the mantel of light elements.
The late veneer theory hypothesis: Comets struck the early earth after the big splat event covering the very hot earth with hydrocarbons. The late veneer hypothesis requires that the earth had a Venus like atmosphere (atmospheric pressure of say 60 atmospheres) for the early earth, except with methane.
There are multiple problems with the later veneer hypothesis (See Thomas Gold’s Book Deep Hot Biosphere: The Myth of Fossil Fuels for details). One of the key problems of the late veneer theory is the observation that the percentage of heavy gaseous elements in the earth’s current atmosphere does not match that of comets (Comets are residues of the early solar systems. The comet elemental composition does match that of the sun). The late veneer theory’s explanation for the miss match of isotopes in the earth’s atmosphere to that of comets is that the early solar system had a close encounter with another solar system which temporary provided a limited source of comets to cover the earth but not significantly change the element composition of the sun.
The second hypothesis is the deep earth hydrocarbon theory. This theory hypothesizes that massive amounts of hydrocarbons (5% of the total core mass) are located in the earth’s core. As the core solidifies these hydrocarbon (CH4) are released. The earth’s core started to solidify about a billion years ago. At very high pressures the CH4 forms longer chain molecules.
The release of CH4 is still occurring as the upper surface of the ocean is saturated with CH4 which indicates that CH4 is being released from some source. The super high pressure liquid CH4 is the force that causes the sea floor to move and raises the continents. There is a gradual increase in deposited hydrocarbons on the surface of the continents starting from a about 1 billion years ago. The super high pressure CH4 theory explains why there where shallow oceans 800 million years ago. As the process continued the continents were raised and there was more water deposited on the earth which created the current deep oceans.
The Nobel Prize winning astrophysics Thomas Gold’s book the Deep Hot Biosphere provides more than separate 50 logical pillars based on observations ( I can provide an additional 20 logical pillars) which support the assertion that deep core CH4 (CH4 is extruded from the core as it solidifies, the super high pressure liquid extruded CH4 continually breaks/flows through the mantel and is hence the origin (non-biological, primeval origin), for petroleum, natural gas, black coal, CO2 in the earth’s atmosphere, and the earth’s oceans.
Organic metals form in the very, very, high pressure liquid CH4. The liquid CH4 as it passes through the mantel thereby picks up and concentrations specific heavy metals such as gold, uranium, thorium, iron, mercury and so on which explains why there are heavy metals in crude oil and why there are heavy metals in black coal. There is of course no biological reason/mechanism that can concentrated heavy metals in oil and black coal.
The super high pressure liquid CH4 extruded from the core as it solidifies with dissolved organic metals in it explains why helium is found in oil deposits and in natural gas deposits which is commercial source of helium and explains the super concentrations of metals in the earth’s mantle (as much as million times concentrated). The source of helium is the radioactive decay of Uranium and Thorium.
The super high pressure liquid CH4 carries metals out of the liquid core in solution. As the pressure in decreases as the super high pressure liquid move to the surface specific metals drop out and hence become concentrated in the mantel, in this case below the oil and natural gas deposits. As helium is a gas at all pressures in the earth, the helium gas from radioactive decay cannot break the mantle and pass into the oil and gas deposits. The super high pressure liquid CH4 breaks the mantel as it forms the oil and natural gas deposits.
The super high pressure CH4 that is extruded from the core of the earth as it solidifies provides the force that separate and moves the ocean floors, driving the ocean floor underneath the continental crust. The CH4 in the ocean crust is left under the continental crust which explains why there are bands of mountain ranges at the edge of the continents and why there are massive gas deposits/liquid petroleum as the edge of continents, in mountain ranges, and immediately offshore of continents.

The Deep Hot Biosphere, The Myth of Fossil Fuels by Thomas Gold

It should be noted the abiotic theory of oil, natural gas, and black coal is not new. That is the standard theory in Russia and the Ukraine. The Ukraine instituted of science had initiated a formal protest that Thomas Gold has not the discover of that theory. Gold just found 40 or so more observations that prove that theory is correct.
The fossil origin of black coal, oil, and natural gas is a Zombie theory which creates paradoxes, such as why is there helium found in natural gas and oil deposits or why is there mercury and other heavy metals in black coal? Or why is there in the Canada province of New Brunswick a coal seam that is almost vertical that cuts through sediment layers? Why is in Oklahoma is there an oil deposit that has black coal in the middle of the deposit? (The issue is oil is supposedly formed from marine organisms and black coal from ancient forests.) In fact it is common to find black coal near oil deposits.

MIDDLE EAST GEOLOGY Why the Middle East fields may produce oil forever

Reply to  William Astley
February 5, 2016 4:42 pm

Actually, all the Russians I work with (and I’ve worked with many) look upon biotic source rocks as the origin of their oil and gas.
It amazes me how many people here prefer one book by a guy well out of his field to say, years of post graduate and industry research.
You discredit the good climate science on this site with your shallow and myopic understanding of oil and gas. It did not burble out of the deep earth. There are massive numbers of well documented geographical and biochemical demonstrations that our oil and gas is from biologic remnants deposited in organic rich sediments.

Jeff Mitchell
Reply to  doug
February 6, 2016 12:22 am

Doug, would you please explain how helium got into the oil or natural gas fields, and mercury and heavy metals wound up in coal? The origins of the hydrocarbons in other parts of the solar system like Saturn’s Titan where no life is known to exist is another. I’m curious about these points. You didn’t argue that any of Mr. Astley’s points were false or provide an alternate explanation. Perhaps you were replying to someone else’s comment. I can’t tell who you are addressing as your post appears to be at the primary level of the thread.
Based on your post, I’d guess you also don’t believe in that theory from world’s most famous patent clerk, since the subject matter was way, way outside his occupational experience. But the patent job was due to his inability to get a position teaching in his field of expertise which was physics and math. And his failure in math and school is a myth that you can check out by googling “Einstein failed high school”.
You simply made blanket statements that your view was correct with no support. You gave me no reason to think you know what you are talking about regardless of who you are responding to. Please try again.

Jeff Mitchell
Reply to  doug
February 6, 2016 12:26 am

Oops. Doug did replay to Mr. Astley specifically. The indentation appeared to me as a main thread comment while I was composing my post, but is correctly indented when viewing in its normal context. I regret the error.

wayne Job
Reply to  William Astley
February 13, 2016 3:12 pm

I would prefer my science for all this stuff to come from a much older source as it makes more sense on how our planet is the way it is. That is the stuff from ancient Sumer, they say a giant watery planet gave our earth a glancing blow and dumped heaps of water on us.
This explains our geology and how forests got buried.

James at 48
February 5, 2016 9:58 am

With all the evidence of hydrocarbons now being found on planets / planets’ moons / etc that do not appear to have any life, I think we can safely assume that most if not all hydrocarbons are results of abiotic processes.

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 10:30 am

Don K.
I live just below the Cumberland plateau. Coal fields abound, some old strip mines where
the coal is gone and some areas where coal cannot be mined due to the regime’s
regulations. The gas that is called coal gas which still rises in the plumes of both areas
is actually natural gas, not just methane. The layer of sedentary rock which contained
the hydrocarbon in the past has long since worn away, allowing the gas to enrich the
topsoil before passing through the layer, entering the atmosphere as CO2 if oxidize,
or natural gas if not. There is soo much natural gas that times large areas burn is an
ignition source is present.

William Astley
February 5, 2016 10:49 am

Scientific problems are holistic. Holistic problems are solved by summarizing all of the observations and then actively developing competing theories to attempt to solve the problem. The correct solution eliminates all of the anomalies and paradoxes.
The standard analysis methodology for private industry to solve holistic problems is the plane crash investigation methodology. As the public would not accept planes from time to time crashing as there are unresolved engineering defects and required maintenance issues that were not identified or addressed, the plane crash methodology is used. The plane crash methodology is used to solve holistic problems where it necessary to solve the problem as soon as possible as opposed to the talk and write about the problem forever methodology.
The plane crash methodology requires (for practical logical reasons) that all the data/analysis is summarized, In the plane crash analysis there is absolutely no barriers to developing new theories. In plane crash analysis theories advance to the top of the short list (note in plane crash analysis there is a short list as opposed to the lets pick one theory a decade before we start the new analysis and never relook at the fundamental issues methodology and attempt to keep the first chosen theory regardless of the evidence methodology.
In the plane crash analysis any and all paradoxes/anomalies are noted ((things that are not explained or contradict a theory). Finally it is an absolute requirement in plane crash analysis that the entire analysis/set of observations is documented without prejudice so third parties can check the validity of all conclusions and recommendations and to enable third parties or the original team to use the formal plane crash analysis documentation as a base to relook at a problem if necessary.
The holistic analysis methodology/process use to solve what causes a plane crash or why a refinery blew up, and so on is similar/analogous to solving a picture puzzle. The shape of the puzzle pieces changes when the observations are viewed with a different theory. What a theory can or cannot explain depends on its mechanisms. Staying with the picture puzzle analogy, as more and more observations are available and the analysis has matured, it becomes easier and easier to solve the problem. The solution drops out, if fundamental theory errors are corrected. There is no guessing required, the observations point to the solution.
Pure science uses the one paper with blinders on forever analysis methodology where the authors ignored the observations and paradoxes that disprove the theory they are pushing, In pure science the authors will call any competing theory cranky, sometimes decades ago with no formal analysis. In pure science individuals are allowed to actively or covertly attack anyone attempting to advance a competing theory based on observations. In pure science the observations that are paradoxes and anomalies never make it into the text books, so it is common for the new people in the field to be complete unaware that the base theory is an urban legend.
In pure science people are paid to publish papers, not to solve problems. In pure science, people advance their careers by getting the support of old guys that went through the same gauntlet. The old guys in pure science hate any competing theory (imagine you have published hundreds of papers pushing the standard theory, you have spent years attempting to make paradoxes and anomalies go away, you are now head of a small department and control funding and member selection of large projects. Can you see how the irrational bias to theory changes develops?) and will and have worked to stop publication of observations, and have blocked funding for research for competing theories. In the old guys paradigm stopping research into competing theories is just saving money for the real important work.
The old guys develop over time a weird emotional attachment to specific theories which they would be fired for in private industry. In private industry problems must be solved and all theories/mechanisms belongs to the group trying to solve the problem not to an individual. In private industry there are senior specialists that make sure there are no stones unturned and to stop all theoretical prejudices. Senior specialists get paid to help multidiscipline specialists solve problems, not to study problems endlessly.
The forever analysis methodology complete with its we hate any competing theory paradigm explains why there is an astonishing pile of breakthroughs ( Noble prize winning discoveries, discoveries that would require re-writing textbooks, discoveries that would change the course of humanity/our everyday life, discoveries that would lead to interstellar space travel, and so on) in almost every field of pure science that are comically/surreally easy to find.
There are books that have been written decades ago that summarize paradoxes and anomalies in different fields and come up with a solution that is incorrect but points in the direction of the solution. As the decades have past there are more and more new observations and analysis results so it is now fairly straightforward to put the pieces together to solve the different related puzzles.

Reply to  William Astley
February 5, 2016 2:21 pm


February 5, 2016 11:10 am

The problem with the concept of ‘abiotic coal’ is that coal contains fossils of biological entities. Even at the chemical level the presence of polycyclic hydrocarbons (naphthalene, anthracene, phenanthrene, etc.) with linked rings of 10 or more carbon atoms argues against the origin of coal seams from simple one-carbon molecules such as methane or CO2.
The coal is more likely formed by anaerobic cooking at temperatures too warm for the fungi to thrive. Anybody who has ever mulched knows that the ‘fermentation’ of rotting vegetation can generate heat – occasionally enough for spontaneous combustion.

Michael J. Dunn
Reply to  tadchem
February 5, 2016 1:25 pm

“The problem with the concept of abiotic sandstone is that sandstone contains fossils of biological entities.”
“The problem with the concept of abiotic petrification is that petrified objects are fossils of biological entities.”
…or isn’t the logical fallacy evident?
In any case, would it be true that fungi participate in fermentation?
(Just take it easy folks. The biotic theory necessarily requires that all the carbon in hydrocarbons and carbonaceous materials started out in the atmosphere. That has huge implications.)

Smart Rock
Reply to  tadchem
February 5, 2016 1:41 pm

Quite so. Plus, as anyone who’s read a simple geology textbook knows, no deposits of coal were formed until after land plants evolved,i.e. in about the last one-tenth of the Earth’s history. Before that, there were only marine black shales that get progressively more scarce as you look at older and older rocks. Formation of coal and oil is related to the evolution of life forms (and geological environments that can develop large accumulations of dead life forms).
Of course, most of the carbon that was trapped in those dead organisms had previously existed as CO2 or CH4 (carbonate rocks being rather sparse before the Carboniferous). And it all came from within the mantle, and is probably still escaping from the mantle to some extent. But the idea that you can drill deep enough to tap into endless gas is pretty far-fetched – at the depths they are talking about, permeable zones that could hold easily recoverable reserves cannot be sustained because of the confining pressure. If anything, you might get a continuous slow seepage of methane. Maybe.

Reply to  Smart Rock
February 5, 2016 2:24 pm

So, there are no Montana sized bubbles of pure methane lurking under the crust, just waiting for us to stick a straw through and suck it out?

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 11:38 am

William A.,
Thanks for your input. My finding have been dismissed because I am an autodidact.
I have had to convince professors that most of their life’s work is wrong.
Terra Preta is a good example. The consensus has been that the rich plots of topsoil in
the Amazon was created by the natives who farmed them. Some of the plots have been
farmed for thousands of years. Evidence of human occupation in the yellow soil below
the rich top soil convinced people that humans must have created the soil.
Again cause was confused with effect. The microbes which consume the natural gas
from the plumes over which the topsoil sits are aerobic. As in-falling dust raised the
top of the soil, the level to which the methanotrophs can breathe also rises, eventually
above the first evidence of human occupation. The microbes consume the gas, use
the hydrogen for energy, and excrete the carbon, making the soil dark. As the heavy
rains fall, they leach the carbon, leave the soil yellow once again, as no more carbon
is deposited that deep.
The folks in Brazil do not want to hear that their ancients were not geniuses.
Terra Preta is one of the touchstones of “sustainable farming”.

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 11:46 am

I don’t believe anyone proposed that coal was formed only by natural gas, and when I
use the term, I don’t mean methane only.
Think of the earth as a large hydrocarbon distillery/cat cracker. The earth generates
the complete range of hydrocarbons.

Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 2:27 pm

So what did happen to all the forests of huge plants which covered the Earth and produced all of the oxygen that oxidized the iron in the ocean, and created the O2 rich atmosphere which allowed bugs as big as trolley-cars to evolve?

Reply to  Menicholas
February 5, 2016 6:57 pm

And, for that matter, where did the oxygen come from?
Early atmosphere was highly reduced.
Seems to me the O2 we have so much of came from CO2 outgassed from volcanoes, and oxidized via photosythesis to free O2.

Don K
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 6, 2016 12:37 am

Jerry H
When you distinguish between Methane and Natural Gas. I assume you’re referring to the unfortunately named “Natural Gas Liquids” which are gases at room temperature and pressure. Yes, those things — Ethane, Propane, Butane, Isobutane are often present in the gas mix from natural gas wells as are other gases like Hydrogen Sulfide, Sulphur Dioxide, Carbon Dioxide, etc. There are often some actual liquids (i.e. “oil”) present as well. The non-methane stuff is separated out and those for which there is a market are sold separately. The product sold as “Natural Gas” is Methane plus an oderant. It’s probably best to try to structure your terminology to acknowledge the common usage. If you don’t, you may not confuse yourself, but you’ll confuse everybody else.
Your theory that (some?) coal is formed by methane (or a mixture of natural gases) interacting with organic rich soil is one I don’t think I’ve I’ve never heard before. But I’m skeptical for at least two reasons. First, upland environments for the most part tend to erode, not to get covered and preserved. When they are preserved they tend to be topographic low points — lakes and ponds. There are some paleosoils preserved here and there. But I don’t recall them being described as especially organic rich. Second, I would think that coals formed in the way you propose (assuming that’s even possible) would surely include a lot of dirt — i.e. would have a very high “ash content”. Customers don’t much like coal with a high ash content so there wouldn’t be much point in mining it.

February 5, 2016 12:42 pm

Two, probably naive questions based solely on the summary and abstract:
– Why is it unreasonable to suppose lignin consuming fungi might experience periodic die off and regeneration/adaption? Is there any evidence to contradict this? The incidence of antibiotic resistant organisms, their adaptation and subsequent evolutionary success is well documented in literature, why couldn’t a similar mechanism apply in this example?
– Why is this process refereed to as “abiotic”? Certainly the production of lignin is biotic, whether decomposed by a biological process (lignin consuming fungus) or not? The resulting biological material evolving to coal by geologic processes must still be consider biotic in origin?
The title captured my attention after reading many hypothetical papers on abiotic fossil fuel origins, but those are largely restricted to the inorganic synthesis of long chain hydrocarbons. This paper seems to take a different approach to the definition of “abiotic”?

Reply to  Bartleby
February 5, 2016 2:29 pm

True dat!
You said a mouthful, Bartleby.

Reply to  Bartleby
February 5, 2016 5:36 pm

Careful! What was once extolled as “critical thinking” could now qualify as “denialism.”

Crispin in Waterloo
February 5, 2016 1:24 pm

We don’t think they do, we say they do, because we were taught to repeat that storyline.

February 5, 2016 1:46 pm

Anthony, you have a lot of TYPO’S today !! :
February 5, 2016 at 5:09 am
Typo error ??
“You’re vry often at the edge of what you know yourself and ………
Pop Piasa
February 5, 2016 at 8:46 am
Also the title has the word Caboniferous.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Marcus
February 5, 2016 2:16 pm

speech to text not yet perfect

Reply to  John F. Hultquist
February 5, 2016 5:22 pm

..But corrections can make it all better !

Reply to  Marcus
February 5, 2016 5:28 pm

Marcus, you have a typo. It’s Grauniaditis.

Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 2:55 pm

Richard Courtney @1:42PM
Different plants are fossilized by different minerals depending upon location. Wood
has been found to be fossilized by silica, calcite, pyrite and opal in addition to
Microbes and many insects eat hydrocarbons. Their death creates the sheen seen on
petroleum products which is one of the things which has lead people to the conclusion
that hydrocarbons are biotic.
In nature, the methanogens generating methane from biomass tend to be balanced by
methanotrophs eating it.
Scientist searching for what they expected to be a massive plume from the Deep Water
Horizon spill found none. The microbes had bloomed to the extent of the food and
consumed it all.
The same happens with the microscopic life which has been given credit for the buildup
of hydrates at great depth in the oceans. Methanogens eat the food on its way down
or as it hits the bottom, then methanotrophs consume their product, forestalling
any buildup.
The buildup of hydrates takes place, usually hundreds of feet below what appears
to be the bottom of the ocean.
Off the coast of the Carolinas, there is ~ a five hundred foot layer that appears to
be the ocean bottom, but below that is a 500 meter layer of hydrates.
The hydrates accumulate until the pressure of the hydrates is heavy enough
to resist the upward force of the up welling gas, and remain so until something
changes their zone of stability.

george e. smith
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 5, 2016 3:53 pm

Isn’t opal just silica ?? As in silica laid down in epi layers from aqueous solutions (maybe tidal), that coagulate together to form arrays od diffracting spheres whose different sizes create the different diffraction colors.
Don’t opals just fall apart in the presence of water ??

Gary Pearse
Reply to  george e. smith
February 5, 2016 6:10 pm

No george they don’t fall apart in water. They are actually 31% water. There are lovely petrified wood pebbles with some of the rings replaced by opal. These were found in a buried channel of the Missouri River when it flowed the other way – north through Canada before the last glacial period. It is some 200 -300 feet below the present surface in southwest Manitoba, Canada buried in the sediments of the glacial Lake Agassiz that inundated a large area with the retreating ice as its northern shore. The flooding resulted in the water being forced to flow south and another small river flowing into the Mississippi “captured” the headwaters of the old Missouri that then cut a new channel the other way. Glacial rebound of the land assisted.
If you heat opal, it will ‘fall apart’.

February 5, 2016 4:04 pm

There is a problem with the following paragraph: ‘The new theory explains coal accumulation using weather and tectonic activity. The Carboniferous Period was not only warm, but also coincided with the separation of Pangaea. The spikes on the graph coincide with basins opening up and providing a place for plant material to be deposited before eroding away.’
In the US, the Carboniferous Period is divided into the Mississippian and Pennsylvanian. A reconstruction of the Mississippian can be found here:
A reconstruction of the Pennsylvanian can be found here:
You will note that the Iapetus Ocean was being consumed between the North American, European, and African Plates during this time. Hence, the supercontinent Pangea was being created during the Carboniferous Period, not a breakup.
The coal beds laid down in North America during the Carboniferous Period involved numerous transgression – regression episodes in shallow seas covering parts of the continent. This occurred as the Appalachian mountains were being formed.
Pangea began to break apart during the Triassic Period.

Reply to  Keith Peregrine
February 5, 2016 7:03 pm

I think the mountains you refer to were the Grenville mountains, and the orogeny was the Grenville Orogeny.
What we call the Appalachians are merely the once deeply buried roots of these mountains.
The Grenvilles were worn down to a pediplain, and then further erosion exposed the highly folded and metamorphosed formations that comprise the Appalachians.
At least, that was how they were teaching it when I was learning Earth history in various geology classes.

Don K
Reply to  Menicholas
February 6, 2016 6:10 am

“I think the mountains you refer to were the Grenville mountains, and the orogeny was the Grenville Orogeny.
What we call the Appalachians are merely the once deeply buried roots of these mountains.”
I THINK that’s mostly the pre-plate-tectonics theory which demanded eroding Himalayian scale mountains in New England during the early to mid Paleozoic to support rapidly eroding West running rivers that formed the so called Queenstown and Catskill deltas in New York. Nowadays the two “deltas” have become forearc basins. The Eastern mountains have (I believe) shrunk to more moderate size. The rocks East and South of Logan’s Line (roughly the Hudson River nearly to the St Lawrence then Northeast right through Newfoundland and on to the British Isles and Scandanavia) are recognized as a jumble of chunks of Laurentia(proto North America), Iapetus Sea sediments, small volcanic island arcs and one, maybe two, long narrow micro-continents called Avalonia.
In this model, Grenville sediments probably underlie most of the Western Appalachians, but the only place in the Appalachians they are exposed on the surface is the Adirondack uplift. In this vision, other old metasediments in the Eastern Appalachians like the Rocks at Great Falls on the Potomac are Avalonian not Grenvillian (at least this year).
This new Geology looks to be still a work in progress. For example, there is a long sequence of sediments and metasediments exposed along the New Haven River in Vermont that made little sense in the pre-plate-tectonics world, and doesn’t make much more sense in the new geology.

Reply to  Don K
February 6, 2016 9:48 am

One part that this “new geology” of the region needs to explain are today’s continuing low-energy earthquakes on the St Lawrence River “fault line” extending all the way towards the middle of the continental towards Memphis, through the New Madrid earthquake foci, towards the Ozark warm springs and Ozark mountains. Seems the original “stable North American plate” is showing off at least one crack through its middle.

February 5, 2016 4:28 pm

“The problem with the concept of ‘abiotic coal’ is that coal contains fossils of biological entities.”
A fossil of a biological entity preserved in a fossil of a biological entity at the San Andreas fossil-filled fault. (La Brea Tar Pits)
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Natural asphalt (also called asphaltum, bitumen, pitch or tar—brea in Spanish) has seeped up from the ground in this area for tens of thousands of years. The tar is often covered with dust, leaves, or water. Over many centuries, the bones of animals that were trapped in the tar were preserved.”
[…]comment image
“Tar and wild flower run within La Brea campus”
“Other asphalt deposits can be found in Texas, Peru, Trinidad, Iran, Russia, Venezuela, and Poland.”
– wiki/La Brea Tar Pits
* * *
“The desert sand dunes along the equator, while devoid of open liquid, nonetheless hold more organics than all of Earth’s coal reserves.”
-wiki/Lakes of Titan
* * *
“Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is a mysterious place. Its thick atmosphere is rich in organic compounds. Some of them would be signs of life if they were on our planet.
-European Space Agency
* * * * * * * * * * *
What happens to extinct tar seeps and asphalt volcanoes?

Reply to  Khwarizmi
February 5, 2016 5:24 pm

They become tourist attractions.

Reply to  Khwarizmi
February 6, 2016 3:28 am
Reply to  Khwarizmi
February 6, 2016 3:42 am

Thinking about the lakes on Titan. They are, hypothetically, liquid ethane, which is a viable rocket fuel for interplanetary travel. Here on Earth, ethane is a component of natural gas, and there’s an excess of it in shale gas that should be put to use for on-site electricity generation:

February 5, 2016 5:14 pm

Odd article, since it does not appear that the “previous hypothesis of coal accumulation focused on a temporal lag between the evolution of lignin production in woody plants and the evolution of lignin-degrading fungi” was much of a consensus. It doesn’t take much searching to conclude that the consensus view of coal creation does not involve fungi evolution.

Reply to  verdeviewer
February 5, 2016 5:27 pm

Admit, of course, that you have to ask, “a consensus among whom?”

Reply to  verdeviewer
February 5, 2016 7:10 pm

It explains why so much coal formed and formed so readily. The fungi were not a reason for coal formation, but may be a reason why most of the worlds coal formed during this period.
Remember too that what we have left is a fraction of what was originally formed. Entire mountain ranges have come and gone since the Carboniferous. I do not have a number, but the fraction of what formed is remaining may be quite low.

Jack Permian
February 5, 2016 6:27 pm

The lignin-feasting fungi must have been living down south in Gondwana during the Carboniferous, as there is precious little coal of that age to be found down under.
Anyhow, during the late Carboniferous/Early Permian, a “(not so) unique combination of everwet tropical conditions” existed in Gondwana while it was parked at the geographic South Pole, resulting in the formation of the massive Permian coal deposits found in Australia.
So it was the evolution of those damn plants that made it cold! /sarc

Don K
Reply to  Jack Permian
February 6, 2016 12:47 am

The paleomaps at seem to put Australia pretty far South during the Upper Carboniferous and even further South during the Permian. And there are thought to have been periodic glaciations because sea level seems to have been bouncing around. It may simply have been too nippy in Oz back then to accumulate thick coal beds.

Aarne H
February 5, 2016 6:47 pm

That is the first I have seen the term “temporal lag/evolutionary lag” with regards to the formation of coal in the Paleozoic. The gaps in accumulation can be attributed to transgression/regression of the seas (ie Marine to Terrestrial deposits).

February 5, 2016 7:30 pm The evolution of multicomponent systems at high pressures: VI. The thermodynamic stability of the hydrogen–carbon system: The genesis of hydrocarbons and the origin of petroleum
The spontaneous genesis of hydrocarbons that comprise natural petroleum have been analyzed by chemical thermodynamic-stability theory……For experimental verification of the predictions of the theoretical analysis, a special high-pressure apparatus has been designed that permits investigations at pressures to 50 kbar and temperatures to 1,500°C and also allows rapid cooling while maintaining high pressures. The high-pressure genesis of petroleum hydrocarbons has been demonstrated using only the reagents solid iron oxide, FeO, and marble, CaCO3, 99.9% pure and wet with triple-distilled water. ….

February 5, 2016 8:40 pm

I suspect there is oil/tar etc along with water ice at the lunar poles. All meant to have come from comet impacts.
All the carbon on earth came from an ancient supernova that seeded the neighborhood and the sun and planets coalesced from that.
The only argument about oil/gas/coal is whether or not it got cycled through life.
Gold’s books are worth a read. He isn’t dogmatic and suggests experiments by which his hypothesis can be disproved. Some of today’s so called scientists should take heed.

February 6, 2016 4:19 am

The key to Carboniferous coal is understanding how much of it was simply the result of forest fires.
Oxygen was more than 30% of the atmosphere at the time and forest fires were unstoppable. They would burn right across a continent for thousands and thousands of kms. All the big trees of the Carboniferous burned to ground every 10 years at least.
Not hard to imagine 1 million years of successive high growth forests getting burnt to the ground every 10 years turning into a good coal seam after getting buried by sediments (as also occurred in this period because of rapid sea level change from the on-off ice ages in Gondwana at the South Pole). The coal of the Carboniferous formed in low elevation areas which were near the equator at the time.

Aarne H
Reply to  Bill Illis
February 6, 2016 9:01 am

Forest fires would have simply created charcoal. Good for preserving organic materials, not so good for generating hydrocarbons (coal, oil and gas).
FWIW, you generally need ~10′ of peat material to form 1′ of coal.

February 6, 2016 6:57 am

“If you had 80 million years without lignin decay, you’d run out of CO2 in the atmosphere in a couple hundred years… we’d freeze the earth.”
I have long grown weary reading a trace gas determines whether or not we freeze [or] boil. Water vapor’s absorption range of long wave radiation pretty much overlaps CO2, except at the very cold range of temperatures (I think it is -70 oC or lower). You could increase CO2 to 1,200+ PPM and it wouldn’t make a spit of difference because water vapor already absorbed all the long wave radiation being admitted from our planet’s surface.

Reply to  Hell_Is_Like_Newark
February 6, 2016 9:39 am

CO2 is supposed to be well-mixed in the atmosphere, H2O is not. So, wouldn’t the dry valleys of Antarctica be the best place to see how CO2 is affecting temperature?
Peer-reviewed science in Antarctica has apparently not yet succumbed to consensus filtering and shows no discernible warming trend there. For example:
And, paywalled:
“The McMurdo Dry Valleys have cooled by 0.7°C per decade between 1986 and 2000” and there is “evidence of rapid terrestrial ecosystem response…including decreased primary productivity of lakes (6–9% per year) and declining numbers of soil invertebrates (more than 10% per year).” Uh oh.
LiveScience has worrisome article titled: “Melting Permafrost Found in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys.” But if you read the article, you find that this is one area of one valley, and that “…unlike regions of Antarctica that are warming, temperatures in the Dry Valleys stayed the same or cooled in the past 20 years.” Researchers “found one weather shift in the valley. For still-unknown reasons, the U-shaped gorge is baking under more intense sunlight. Weather stations record increased sunlight in the valley in recent years, which means more solar radiation is heating the thin, dark blanket of dirt on top of the frozen ground.”
The paper:
So, in spite of increased solar radiation, temperatures are falling. (Oh dear, I’ve spilled the beans. Stay tuned for contrary “research.”)
The McMurdo Dry Valleys are considered the closest Earth environment to Mars, and Martian not-so-permafrost has also been melting:
Of course, correlation does not imply causation outside of political activism.

Jerry Henson
February 6, 2016 11:49 am

Don K. @ 12.37 AM
I wasn’t clear about attribution for abiotic theories. George Agricola, 16th century,
Alexander von Humbolt, 19th century, and Demetri Mendeleev , of periodic table fame,
19th century,are the guys that get most of the credit for the abiotic theory. Russia
teaches it and has been very successful with it.
I became a fan in the late 1950s when my general science teacher told us that Saturn and
Jupitor and the outer planets had hydrocarbons in their atmosphere. My next marker was
in the mid 1960 when the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer said that a meteorite
that had just hit the earth was a high percentage hydrocarbon. My next major revelation
was in the mid 1970s during the “Oil shortage”, the American Petroleum Institute (API)
put out a document which said that there was as much oil under the surface of the earth
as their was water in the oceans. No, unfortunately I no longer have the document and
my web searches have been fruitless. At that time, “experts” were saying that we had a
25 year supply left and i supposed that the API panicked. They have since gone back to
the biotic position, so as to make people believe that there is a finite supply of the stuff.
In the face of much more evidence, oceans of hydrocarbons on Titan, further analysis of
the outer solar system planet’s atmospheres, and every extra solar system planet’s
atmosphere’s analysis I have read says hydrocarbons are everywhere and are abiotic.
For me, the belief that earthly hydrocarbons are biotic defies logic.
Dr. Gold contributed to my current knowledge by explaining why gas and oil had the
rainbow sheen on them. It’s the dead of the microbes that eat some of the petroleum
on its way to the surface. That was the last thing that bothered me about the
abiotic theory.
As far as I have been able to determine, Dr. Gold gave the only explanation of the Plume
theory for coal formation. The Cumberland plateau was probably deep under water
when the coal formed and it wouldn’t have been just natural gas, but the heavier molecules,
from which the lighter ends later evaporated. I was just saying that the residual plume
continues with some of natural gas is still making it to the surface, some of it sequestered
in the Chattanooga Shale still well below the surface.
My claim and findings extend Gold’s and people like Giuseppe Etiope’s work. I first
theorized in 2007 that topsoil mined from Terra Preta sites which was found to grow
back at a rate of about 1/3 inch per year when surrounded by poor yellow jungle soil
in the Amazon required an enormous amount of energy. As plumes of natural gas
were found to power the food chain at black smokers, I concluded that natural gas
(yes I do mean Methane, Ethane, Butane, Etc.) must power the plots of Terra Preta,
and proceeded to the theory that all upland top soil must be similarly powered.
After researching it endlessly on the internet, and finding no support, I decided to
do the field research. My first test site was in the tall grass area of northeast Kansas,
where the topsoil is more than a meter thick.
I dug a hole through the topsoil, well below any bio-mass and installed a 14 inch
ss salad bowl which I inverted, drilled a hole in the now top and soldered in a brass
compression fitting to which i attached a 1/8 id copper tube which extended about
6″ above the top soil and attached a closed gas valve and closed the hole.
The soil was easy to re-consolidate because it was raining by then. I waited
one day and returned to check for results.
I had rented an expensive and sensitive hydrocarbon tester, flame ionization device
FID, and found several hundred ppm of combustible hydrocarbons. Since then I
have tested many sites and received a positive every time.
I have since purchased a much less sensitive (infrared) devise, + or – 5 PPM which
is sensitive enough until i find someone with a PHD who is willing to write the Paper
with me.
Many people have tested the topsoil and found “methane”. The USEPA says that
upland topsoil is a sink for atmospheric methane, to the tune of TG30 per year. but
the real problem is that methane, freed to the atmosphere rises.
The methodology of most people who tested topsoil for methane found methane,
but used an FID analyzer which checks only for a flammable hydrocarbon,
confirmation bias. The people who used a gas chromatograph for similar tests
found natural gas, confirmation for me.
My findings prove that natural gas perks up all around the world, but is not evenly
distributed. The Atlanta,GA area has a granite shield layer near the surface, so
the topsoil is red clay and very poor. The Ukraine has very rich topsoil which
is 2 meters thick in places and is the reason that it was the Roman Empire’s
bread basket.
My findings prove that hydrocarbons are not a “fossil fuel” and are created on an
ongoing basis. Think carbonated drink, but removing the stopper allows more gas
to rise from below continuously. My findings are very unpopular with the AGW ,
USEPA, Big oil, anyone trained by traditional geology professors, Big Wind,
Big Solar, etc.
My findings are very easy to replicate. Test instruments have gotten much cheaper,
and I have even heard a rumor that an infrared test instrument for ethane should
soon be available, no gas chromatograph required.

Gregg C.
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 11, 2016 6:19 am

I am fully convinced that the ‘fossil’ theory of hydrocarbons and the abiotic deep-methane theory can both be completely true, and both mechanisms were/are at work.

Aarne H
Reply to  Jerry Henson
February 11, 2016 7:30 am

When observations do not support a theory, it moves to the waste bin of failed theories. Gold’s theory of Abiotic origins of petroleum, Steady State theory and Garbage theory all failed the test of Science. Gold’s abiotic theory only survives in the realm of conspiracy theorists.
Post from Dr.John Clarke- re: debunking Gold’s abiotic theory (don’t have original source of post)
“The fact remains that the abiotic theory of petroleum genesis has zero credibility for economically interesting accumulations. 99.9999% of the world’s liquid hydrocarbons are produced by maturation of organic matter derived from organisms. To deny this means you have to come up with good explanations for the following observations.
The almost universal association of petroleum with sedimentary rocks.
The close link between petroleum reservoirs and source rocks as shown by biomarkers (the source rocks contain the same organic markers as the petroleum, essentially chemically fingerprinting the two).
The consistent variation of biomarkers in petroleum in accordance with the history of life on earth (biomarkers indicative of land plants are found only in Devonian and younger rocks, that formed by marine plankton only in Neoproterozoic and younger rocks, the oldest oils containing only biomarkers of bacteria).
The close link between the biomarkers in source rock and depositional environment (source rocks containing biomarkers of land plants are found only in terrestrial and shallow marine sediments, those indicating marine conditions only in marine sediments, those from hypersaline lakes containing only bacterial biomarkers).
Progressive destruction of oil when heated to over 100 degrees (precluding formation and/or migration at high temperatures as implied by the abiogenic postulate).
The generation of petroleum from kerogen on heating in the laboratory (complete with biomarkers), as suggested by the biogenic theory.
The strong enrichment in C12 of petroleum indicative of biological fractionation (no inorganic process can cause anything like the fractionation of light carbon that is seen in petroleum).
The location of petroleum reservoirs down the hydraulic gradient from the source rocks in many cases (those which are not are in areas where there is clear evidence of post migration tectonism).
8 ) The almost complete absence of significant petroleum occurrences in igneous and metamorphic rocks (the rare exceptions discussed below).
The evidence usually cited in favour of abiogenic petroleum can all be better explained by the biogenic hypothesis e.g.:
Rare traces of cooked pyrobitumens in igneous rocks (better explained by reaction with organic rich country rocks, with which the pyrobitumens can usually be tied).
Rare traces of cooked pyrobitumens in metamorphic rocks (better explained by metamorphism of residual hydrocarbons in the protolith).
The very rare occurrence of small hydrocarbon accumulations in igneous or metamorphic rocks (in every case these are adjacent to organic rich sedimentary rocks to which the hydrocarbons can be tied via biomarkers).
The presence of undoubted mantle derived gases (such as He and some CO2) in some natural gas (there is no reason why gas accumulations must be all from one source, given that some petroleum fields are of mixed provenance it is inevitable that some mantle gas contamination of biogenic hydrocarbons will occur under some circumstances).
The presence of traces of hydrocarbons in deep wells in crystalline rock (these can be formed by a range of processes, including metamorphic synthesis by the fischer-tropsch reaction, or from residual organic matter as in 10).
Traces of hydrocarbon gases in magma volatiles (in most cases magmas ascend through sedimentary succession, any organic matter present will be thermally cracked and some will be incorporated into the volatile phase, some fischer-tropsch synthesis can also occur).
Traces of hydrocarbon gases at mid ocean ridges (such traces are not surprising given that the upper mantle has been contaminated with biogenic organic matter through several billion years of subduction, the answer to 14 may be applicable also).
The geological evidence is utterly against the abiogenic postulate.”

Verified by MonsterInsights