SOURCE OF THE VOLCANIC ASH DEPOSIT (FLINT CLAY)IN THE FIRE CLAY COAL OF THE APPALACHIAN BASINDONALD R. CHESNUTKentucky Geological Survey,University of Kentucky,U.S.A.A flint-clay parting in the Fire Clay coal of the Breathitt Formation (Middle Pennsylvanian, Westphalian B) occurs throughout most of eastern Kentucky and in parts of Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.Two origins for this flint clay have been suggested in the past: detrital and volcanic. The detrital-origintheory holds that the flint clay was formed by the alteration in a peat swamp of a transported heavilyweathered soil. The voIcanic-origin theory suggests that this flint clay is an alteration in a peat swamp ofa volcanic-ash deposit. Arguments for both theories are presented, but volcanic origin is preferred.Examination of Westphalian continental reconstructions, trade wind patterns, and a present-day, ash-falldistribution indicate that the location of the volcanic source for this flint clay was along a line fromKentucky to North Carolina (approximately due east). The intersection of this line with a palinspasticallyreplaced, known Hercynian magmatic arc occurs in extreme eastern North Carolina. This is the approximatelocation of the volcanic source for the ash.This magmatic arc is considered to be a Hercynian subduction zone arc. The occurrence of a volcanicash from this subduction arc in a Westphalian-B coal indicates active subduction during Westphalian time.INTRODUCTIONOver 40 major coal beds in the Pennsylvanian rocks ofeastern Kentucky have been mapped (Fig. 1). These coalswere correlated by the use of key stratigraphic beds suchas marine zones, orthoquartzitic sandstones, and the flintclay parting of the Fire Clay (Hazard No. 4) coal (Westphalian B). There are several occurrences of flint clay ineastern Kentucky but none so distinctive and extensive asthe parting in the Fire Clay coal (although locally otherflint clays resemble the Fire Clay). The occurrence andprobable volcanic origin of this flint clay are the subjectof this discussion.The State of Kentucky, which lies in east-central UnitedStates, has recently completed a program conducted by theU S . Geological Survey and the Kentucky Geological Surveyto geologically map the State at a scale of 1:24,000. Theeastern part of the State, known as the Eastern KentuckyCoal Field, is part of the Appalachian Basin. Surface rocksare of Pennsylvanian age and were deposited largely inshallow-water and deltaic environments. Most of the coalproduced in the State comes from these rocks in theEastern Kentucky Coal Field. The coal production fromthis area plus the Western Kentucky Coal Field makesKentucky the largest producer of coal in the United States,and fifth largest in the world. The Fire Clay coal is one ofthe major coals in the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field and isEXPLANATION01.M.t.". . .Fig.1 1 . Generalized lithologic column for part oft the Pennsylvanian rocks of eastern Kentucky.145
CHESNUTimportant as a key stratigraphic marker in exploration anddevelopment. This study is divided into two parts; thefirst summarizes views on the origin of the flint clay, andthe second discusses the most likely source of the flintclay.FLINT CLAYFlint clay is a claystone composed of microcrystallineto cryptocrystalline kaolinite or halloysite; it is smooth,hard, flint-like in appearance, and breaks with a conchoidalfracture. The flint-clay parting of the Fire Clay coal islight tan to black, generally unlaminated, averages 13 to15 cm (5-6 inches) in thickness [but ranges from 0 to 43 cm(0-17 inches)], and usually occurs in the lower one-thirdof the coal bed. Table 1 lists components of the flint clayfound by STEVENS (1979). The top and bottom contactsof the flint clay are sharp. It is known to occur over adistance of approximately 240 km (150 miles) but is locallyabsent in small areas. Figure 2 shows the occurrence ofPennsylvanian rocks in this region and the distribution ofthe Fire Clay coal and its correlatives in adjacent states.TABLE 1Components of the Fire Clay coal flint clayreported by STEVENS (1979)kaolinite .cryp tocrystalline. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .micrcocrystalline. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .quartz .zircon .rutile .hematite .crandallite? .leucoxene .siderite .chalcopyrite .organics.93-95 %51 %42 %5%0.2 %0.05 %0.6 %0.02 %0.05 %0.04%0.02 %0.52 %100 %ORIGIN OF FLINT CLAY I N THE FIRE CLAYCOALTwo theories have been proposed for the origin of theflint-clay parting: volcanic and detrital. ASHLEY (1928) wasthe first to suggest a volcanic origin, though SEIDERS (1965)was the first to provide evidence suggesting a volcanic origin. His conclusion was based on the absence of any nonvolcanic minerals and debris except carbonaceous matterand kaolinite and the presence of sanidine and embayedquartz.Arguments for a Non-Volcanic OriginTANKARD & HORNE (1979), disagreed with the volcanicash interpretation and suggested that the flint clay was" . . . from weathered soil zones within the basin andtransported to the peat swamps that fringed tidal flats.Highly supersaturated solutions and interfering anionsresulted in rapid gel formation and conversion of illiteto kaolinite by dialysis and dissolution ( KELLER, 1968).Both kaolinite and sanidine are probably products ofillite alteration in an intense pore-water chemicalenvironment."Their evidence against a volcanic-ash origin, based onstudy of the flint clay in parts of Leslie and Perry Counties,Kentucky, are listed below:Fig. 2. Outcrop of Pennsylvanian rocks and occurrence ofthe Fire Clay coal and its correlatives. Shaded area representssurface occurrence of the coal. The coal is subsurfacenortheast of Kentucky in parts of Ohio and West Virginia.Elsewhere, outside the shaded area, the coal has been eroded.1461. The thickest development on flint clay did not occurwhere the lower coal was thickest, but in areas ofmedium thickness (that is, on the margins of thepeat swamp). This distribution suggests sedimentological control because the flint-clay thickness is directly related to swamp sedimentation, not independentof it.
VOLCANIC DEPOSITS IN THE FIRE CLAY COAL APPALACHIAN BASINor nonvolcanic minerals other than kaolinite andcarbonaceous matter indicates a nondetrital originfor the parting. The rounded quartz cited by TANK A RD & HORNE (1979) as a detrital indicator wasidentified by the proponents of a volcanic origin asmagmatically resorbed quartz instead of detritalquartz. Virtually indestructible tourmaline and muscovite mica, common in the Pennsylvanian sedimentary rocks of the Appalachians, are absent inthe flint clay.2.BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN (1981) reported that all phenocrysts are found floating in a kaolinitic clay matrix of the flint clay. They argued that this findingwould be contrary to a detrital origin for the flintclay. A detrital flint clay would exhibit graded bedding, not poor sorting.3.FRANKIE (1982 )4.STEVENS (1979) noted the high titanium oxide content and high titanium oxide to alumina ratio weresimilar to those of tonsteins of known volcanic-ashorigin but inconsistent with normal sedimentaryrocks and other clay units.indicated that there is no relationshipbetween the thickness of the flint clay and thethickness of either the upper or lower coal asdescribed by TANKARD & HORNE (1979).5 . RYMER (1982) suggested that the lack of glass shardswas due to very rapid alteration of unstable, amorphus glass to kaolinite. Kaolinite does not faithfullypseudomorph any preexisting form ( SPEARS , 1977,personal communication in STEVENS, 1979).Fig. 3. Distribution of the Olive Hill Clay Bed of CRIDER(1913) (from ETTENSOHN & DEVER, 1979).The lack of bentonite as a lateral facies equivalentto the flint clay argues against a volcanic origin.(Presumably TANKARD & HORNE (1979) assumed thatash deposition in marine conditions should producea bentonite instead of a flint clay. No lateral bentonite equivalents to the flint-clay parting are known).2.6.RYMER (1982) suggested that severe weathering couldnot have occurred because feldspars are present.Feldspars are normally easily weathered minerals.7.STEVENSshards in the flint clay suggested that the parting isnot volcanic in origin since ash deposits commonlycontain glass shards.(1979) and BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN (1981)argued that the generally sharp contacts of theflint-clay parting with the overlying and underlyingcoals represent an event short in time, and that adetrital origin would very likely show gradationalcontacts with overlying and underlying beds.The occurrence of authigenic sanidine and zircon inrocks other than that of volcanic origin could explainthe presence of sanidine and zircon in the flint-clayparting.8. The widespread distribution of the thin partingprecludes water- borne transportation through aswamp (SEIDERS, 1965: STEVENS, 1979; BOHOR &TRIPLEHORN, 1981; this study).5. The presence of well rounded quartz grains in theparting indicated a detrital origin.9. The Fire Clay coal has an unusually high uraniumcontent compared with other coals of the region(J. C. CURRENS , personal communication, 1982). CURRENS suggested that this high uranium content couldbe used as a correlation tool in locating the FireClay coal. The source of the uranium is possiblyrelated to the volcanic origin of this flint clayparting.3. The lack of glass shards of pseudomorphs of glass4.Arguments for a Volcanic OriginSubsequent to SEIDERS’ study (1965), several other workers (ROBL & BLAND, 1977; STEVENS, 1979; BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN, 1981; RYMER, 1982) proposed a volcanic origin forthis flint clay. Their evidence is listed below.1.SEIDERSSTEVENS(1965), BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN (1981) , and(1979) argued that the absence of detrital10.The physical, mineralogical, and geological conditionsof the Fire Clay flint-clay contrast markedly with aflint clay of generally accepted detrital origin. The147
CHESNUTFig. 4. Distribution of maximum reported thicknesses fort h e flint-clay parting. Source of information is from geologicquadrangle maps, recent field work, and published literature.The two lines represent the northernmost occurrence of9-inch- (22.8 cm) and 6-inch- (15.2 cm) thick flint clay.Unnoticed flint clay very likely occurs in quadrangles whereit is not reported.Olive Hill Flint Clay of C R I D E R (1913) is a Pennsylvanian flint clay that crops out in northeasternKentucky: in Ohio it is known as the SciotovilleFlint Clay, It is almost totally restricted to thenorthern uplifted fault block of the Kentucky RiverFault Zone (Fig. 3), appears to be concentrated innumerous isolated patches on or near an apicalisland postulated by ETTENSOHN & DEVER (1979).and is commonly restricted to paleokarst or erosionallows in the underlying Mississippian rocks. Theclay is generally overlain by a thin coal or carbonaceous shale and has a fine bauxite-like texture asopposed to the smooth, chert-like appearance of theFire Clay flint clay (E. R. SLUCHER, personal communication, 1983). STOUT et al, (1923) reported silt-sizegrains of tourmaline, zircon, siderite, and sericitein the Olive Hill Flint Clay correlative in Ohio, aswell as quartz and needles of rutile. The quartz,rutile, tourmaline, and sericite are detrital. Intensiveweathering due to uplift of this area is suggestedby repeated karstic and subaerial crusts, recurringunconformities, and occurrence of red oxidizedbeds. Heavily weathered soils were probably trans148Fig. 5. Occurrence and approximate isopach of the flintclay parting in the Fire Clay coal bed and its correlatives.ported to erosional lows and then altered by theaction of local overlying peat swamps.11. Volcanic minerals and debris, some of which arefound only in effusive volcanic rocks are reportedin the flint clay. Euhedral sanidine was reportedby SE1DERS (1965), ROBL & BLAND (1977), STEVENS(1979), BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN (1981), and HUDDLE &ENGLUND (1966). STEVENS (1979) argued that theabsence of zoning and vacuoles in the sanidineprecludes an authigenic origin. STEVENS (1979) alsoreported that the sanidine content, as well as flintclay thickness, increases to the southeast. Beta-quartzwas reported by ROBL & BLAND (1977), STEVENS(1979), BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN (1981), and RYMER(1982). Beta-form quartz is only found in effusiverocks such as rhyolite and quartz porphyries formedat temperatures above 575 C. Embayed quartz ( SEIDERS, 1965). splintered quartz (STEVENS, 1979), androunded quartz (STEVENS, 1979; TANKARD & HORNE,1979: BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN, 1981) are forms thoughtto be volcanic. The rounded quartz has been identified as a magmatically resorbed quartz by BOHOR& TRIPLEHORN (1981).
VOLCANIC DEPOSITS IN THE FIRE CLAY COAL APPALACHIAN BASINWinds at altitudesfrom 0 to 3000 mFig. 6 . Paleogeographic reconstruction of continents duringWestphalian time (after BAMRACH e t a l . , 1980). The studyarea is approximately 7 to 10 degrees south of the equatorand rotated about 45 degrees clockwise from its presentposition.Euhedral rutile (STEVENS, 1979; BOHOR & TRIPLE1981), euhedral ilmenite (STEVENS, 1979;BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN , 1981), euhedral zircon witha high length to width ratio (STEVENS, 1979; BOHOR& TRIPLEHORN, 1981: RYMER. 1982), euhedral apatite(STEVENS, 1979; BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN , 1981), andanatase with negative crystals (BOHOR & TRIPLEHORN,1981), are other volcanic minerals found in the FireClay flint clay.HORN,VOLCANIC SOURCEBased upon the foregoing evidence, a stronger case ismade for the volcanic origin. This paper will further arguefor that theory by documenting the volcanic source.The distribution and thickness of the Fire Clay flintclay may provide clues to its source. A generalized thicknessmap (Fig. 4) is based on information provided in geologicquadrangle maps, from recent field work, and from published sources. It shows the maximum reported thicknesses ofthe flint-clay parting. Two lines were approximated, oneat the northernmost occurrence of 22.8 cm (9 inch) orgreater flint clay thickness, and another at the northernmostoccurrence of 15.2 cm (6 inch) or greater flint clay thickness.This approximate isopach is shown on a larger scale inFigure 5, which also shows the extent of preserved FireClay coal. Both maps show a general increase in thicknessof the flint-clay parting to the south, a trend also recognizedby STEVENS (1979).The paleogeography at the time of ash deposition mayexplain this distribution. Almost all the coals in the Pennsylvanian rocks of eastern Kentucky were deposited in West-Winds at altitudesabove 3000 mFig. 7. Low and high-altitude Trade Wind patterns. (A)Less than 3,000 meters in altitude. ( B ) More than 3,000 meters in altitude.phalian time: A paleogeographic reconstruction of the continents during Westphalian time (BAMBACH et al., 1980)(Fig. 6 ) indicates that eastern Kentucky was approximately7 degrees south of the equator and was rotated about 45degrees clockwise compared to its present position.The winds at tropical latitudes are called the TradeWinds or Easterlies, and they blow at angles averaging45 degrees to the equator. Unlike winds at other latitudes,the Trade Winds are predictable. Below 3,000 meters inaltitude the winds blow westward and toward the equator(Fig. 7); however, above 3,000 meters they blow westwardand away from the equator (Fig. 7). These winds are alsoaffected by seasonal shifting of the Trade Wind belt. Inthe summer the belt shifts to the north (Fig. 8), and inthe winter it shifts to the south. Figure 9 shows the summerand winter high-altitude winds, which presumably prevailedin the study area.The recent eruption of Mount St. Helens in Washingtonstate provides clues to the distribution of volcanic ash. Theonly consistently high-altitude eruption of Mount St. Helenswas on May 18, 1980. It produced an ash-fall pattern thatw a s obviously affected by strong, high-altitude winds(FOXWORTHY & HILL, 1982) (Fig. 10). Other lower altitudeeruptions have much smaller ash distributions.Presuming that the widespread distribution of the flintclay parting resulted from an eruption in which largeamounts of volcanic ash reached high altitudes, then oneof these two wind patterns (Fig. 9) could have been responsible for ash distribution. Since the flint clay thickensto the south, the winter winds are the only logical choice.It is then possible to reconstruct an original ash-fall dis149
CHESNUT30 N0 IS u m m e r , high- altitude windsB.30 NB.Fig. 8. Seasonal high-altitude Trade Wind patterns, (A)Summer, (B) Winter.Upper- altitude winds in w i n t e rtribution pattern for the flint clay (Fig. 11) based on winterwinds, the preserved distribution of the flint clay (Fig. 5),and the lanceolate ash fall pattern as a model. The originalgeometry of the flint-clay ash was probably lanceolate, aswas Mount St. Helen's. This lanceolate ashfall patternwas shifted from present-day north to south with its longaxis parallel to the prevailing Westphalian high-altitudewind directions until it matched the preserved distributionof the flint-clay parting. This shape and this position represent a reconstructed pattern of ash deposition. Therefore,from this reconstruction, a likely volcanic source is projected along a line that runs through the states of Virginia andNorth Carolina.The intersection of this projected line with the area ofCarboniferous volcanoes should pinpoint the volcanic source.Any volcanoes of Westphalian age would have been erodedlong ago, but magmatic plutons feeding these volcanoesmay have survived. SINHA & ZIETZ (1982) showed the distribution of Hercynian granitic and gabbroic plutons in thecentral and southern Appalachians and concluded that theywere formed in a continental magmatic arc environmentgenerated by a subduction zone (Fig. 11). The intersectionof the ash fall reconstruction and this magmatic arc is inNorth Carolina.150Fig. 9. Summer and winter high-altitude Trade Windpatterns prevailing in the study area. (A) Summer. (B)Winter.The position of the arc is complicated by the findings ofthe Consortium for Continental Reflection Profiling(COCORP), which indicate that the Blue Ridge and InnerPiedmont rocks are actually thrust over the basement.COOK (1983) suggested that the subduction zone arc waspositioned over the present-day Carolina Slate Belt. TheInner Piedmont and Blue Ridge rocks, which were deformed in previous orogenies, were largely confined betweenthe continental basement and the subduction arc (Fig. 12).When the Gondwanan continent collided with the arc(Alleghenian orogeny), it forced the Blue Ridge and InnerPiedmont rocks onto the North American continental basement and drove the arc and these rocks at least 120 km(75 miles) inland (COOK, 1983). The term "Alleghenianorogeny" is used here to refer to collisional tectonics only.Therefore, the position of the volcanic arc before theAlleghenian displacement was originally at least 120 kmfurther seaward than its present position. Figure 11 showsthe reconstructed position of the volcanic arc, the winddirection, and a possible ash-fall distribution, pointing out
VOLCANIC DEPOSITS IN T H E FIRE CLAY COAL APPALACHIAN BASINW A S H I N G T O NO R E G O NI D A H O20-40 mm (O.78-1. 5 7 i n c h e s )2 . 5 - 2 0 mm (0.09-0.78inch)0 . 5 - 2 6 mm (0.02-0.09inch)0100200 MilesFig. 10. Ash-fall pattern from the May 18, 1980. eruption of Mount St. Helens. lsopachlines are in millimeters (after SARNA-WOJCICKI et al., 1981).a volcano originally near the easternCarolina.bordcr of NorthMagmatic arcs associated with granitic plutons, explosivevolcanoes, and widespread distribution of volcanic ash (aswell as isotopic and geochemical studies in SINHA & ZIETZ,1982) indicate crustal subduction. The same model has beenproposed for Mount St. Helens and othcr related volcanoesin the northwestern United States ( FOXWORTHY
SOURCE OF THE VOLCANIC ASH DEPOSIT (FLINT CLAY) IN THE FIRE CLAY COAL OF THE APPALACHIAN BASIN DONALD R. CHESNUT KentuckyGeological Survey,Universityof Kentucky,U.S.A. A flint-clay parting in the Fire Clay coal of the BreathittFormation (Middle Pennsylvanian, Westpha-
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