Palaeoenvironmental control on coal formation, distribution and quality in the Permian Vryheid Formation, East Witbank Coalfield, South Africa

B. Cairncross, A. B. Cadle

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29 Citations (Scopus)


The No. 1 and No. 2 coal seams from the Permian Vryheid Formation in the east Witbank Coalfield, South Africa are described with respect to their distribution, thickness and quality. These two coal seams accumulated in a postglacial climatic environment and peat accumulation was closely associated with and influenced by deposition in a braided river system. The fluvial channels that were syndepositional with peat accumulation have resulted in thinning of coal below and above channel axes and pinch-out of coal adjacent to channel margins. Low-ash coal originated from peat which accumulated in areas away from the influence of clastic sedimentation. In contrast, higher-ash coals are situated adjacent and parallel to channel margins where interbedded channel sand and silt contaminated the peat. The lower No. 1 seam peat originated under near-optimum conditions in a lacustrine swamp which blanketed an underlying platform of glaciofluvial braided river sediment. This peat swamp was not subjected to syndepositional clastic contamination and as a result is of superior quality (lower ash/higher calorific value and volatile matter) than the overlying No. 2 coal seam. The No. 2 seam is split by a clastic parting produced by a braided fluvial channel which transected the swamp midway through peat accumulation. This fluvial clastic parting deleteriously affected coal thickness and quality. A comparison of the Gondwanan Permian peat-forming conditions with those from Carboniferous northern hemisphere counterparts suggests that the differences in coal characteristics between these two regions are probably related to different palaeoclimatic conditions and basin tectonics. Cool-temperate climatic conditions which prevailed over the Permian peat swamps resulted in less species diversification of vegetation at these high-latitude settings than the diverse floral assemblages of the Carboniferous swamps. A stable intracronic basin platform caused lateral dispersion of sedimentary facies rather than the stacking of vertical facies which occurred in rapidly subsiding depositories. Partial exposure of the Permian peat swamps during peat accumulation may account for the relatively higher inertinite content of the coals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)343-370
Number of pages28
JournalInternational Journal of Coal Geology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1988
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Fuel Technology
  • Geology
  • Economic Geology
  • Stratigraphy


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