Saturday, June 20, 2015

Coal and organic petrology bibliographic and information resources

            Back in 2002 at the annual AAPG (American Association of Petroleum Geologists) meeting in Houston, I hosted an exhibit booth for The Society for Organic Petrology (TSOP). It surprised me that not once, but at least twice, graduate students came up to me and said how much they appreciated the TSOP online bibliography of coal/organic petrology, geology, utilization articles. The students were from schools with limited organic petrology programs or library resources and found the TSOP bibliography invaluable.

            So, as we get into the summer when many graduate students or junior-senior undergraduate students may be concentrating on research rather than classes, here are some organic petrology resources.

Online bibliography:

TSOP reference list: Over 2200 citations which can be browsed by category and available to download into EndNote. AMENDMENT, May 1, 2016: TSOP bibliography list is now a downloadable Excel list of over 6200 entries (=rows) at Column A is a topic, Column B is the reference. I think some citations may be repeated if they cover multiple topics.

Online photomicrograph atlases:

US Geological Survey Organic Petrology Photomicrograph Atlas: (Lots of photos of macerals in coal and those in oil and gas shales.)

Crelling’s Petrographic Atlas of Coals and Carbons: (includes flyash and chars, cokes)

Indiana Geological Survey Atlas of Coal Macerals:


Available in various formats: Hardcover, paperback, or e-book. This list is not comprehensive, but include classics or my favorites.

Organic Petrology by Taylor, G.H., Teichmüller, M., Davis, A., Diessel, C.F.K., Littke, R., Robert, P., 1998: Gebrüder Borntraeger, Berlin, 704 pages. (This is the successor to Stach’s Textbook of Coal Petrology, 1982, 3rd ed., by Stach, E., Mackowsky, M.-Th., Teichmüller,  M., Taylor, G.H., Chandra, D., Teichmüller, R., Murchison, D.G., and Zierke, F., eds., Gebruder Borntraeger, Berlin, 535 p.)

Petroleum Formation and Occurrence (2nd. ed.) by B.P. Tissot and D.H. Welte, 1984, Springer Verlag, Berlin, 699 pages. Not organic petrology, but much on kerogen chemical evolution in the formation of petroleum.

Sedimentary organic matter by Richard V. Tyson, 1995, Chapman & Hall, London, 615 pages. Excellent comprehensive book on particulate organic matter with beautiful photos.

A Petrographic Atlas of Canadian Coal Macerals and Dispersed Organic Matter  by Judith Potter, Lavern Stasiuk, and Alexander Cameron (eds.) (, available from Geological Survey of Canada, Calgary; now available on CD).

Coal-bearing Depositional Systems by Claus F. K. Diessel, 1992, Springer Verlag, 721 pages.

Coal Geology  by Larry Thomas, 2012 (2nd ed.), Wiley-Blackwell, 454 pages. This includes coal origin and petrology, but also exploration, mining, utilization, and environmental issues.

Applied Coal Petrology: The role of petrology in coal utilization by Isabel Suárez-Ruiz and John Crelling, 2008, Elsevier, 388 pages. Petrographic characterization for predicting behavior in various industrial processes like coke-making (steel industry), combustion, carbonization.

Professional scientific societies or society divisions whose activities concentrate on or include organic petrology (=petrography and geochemistry of coal and sedimentary organic matter including petroleum source rocks). TSOP, AAPG, GSA offer student research grant opportunities:

The Society for Organic Petrology (TSOP;; besides the references page, there is a webpage with good links to other organic petrology-related sites:

The International Committee on Coal and Organic Petrology (ICCP;; this society is the governing organization for coal petrology terminology and organic petrographer accreditation)

The Canadian Society for Coal Science and Organic Petrology (

Energy Geology Division, Geological Society of America (formerly the Coal Geology Division) (; besides the general GSA student research grant programs, this division administers two specific research grants)

Energy Minerals Division (AAPG) (; does include uranium)

Friday, June 19, 2015

The La Brea Tar Pits, with some igneous notes thrown in!

Two weeks ago my title was MOG: “Mother-of-the-Groom” in US wedding lingo. I was in Los Angeles, California, to celebrate the wedding of my son, whose apartment is just a couple blocks from the world-famous La Brea Tar Pits.

On the 1-mile walk from our hotel to son’s apartment, I cut through Hancock Park, which includes the campus of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) and the Tar Pits. I walked under Levitated Mass, a large outdoor static-art piece (nod to any igneous geologists out there), opened to the public in 2012*, and then ESE through the grounds of the adjacent Tar Pits.
Levitated Mass in upper left corner, LACMA left and lower center, Tar Pits is green space. The large Lake Pit, with mammoth sculpture group, just to left of red pin; Project 23 boxes and exam space are little white dots in upper center (iPhone screen capture from Maps app).

Levitated Mass by Michael Heizer. Top photo from LACMA website; bottom photo, and all others with no attribution in this blog post, by Malinconico. The art piece includes the rock mass, walkway, and surrounding decomposed granite aggregate. The big rock is a diorite, probably Cretaceous, from Stone Valley Quarry, an aggregate quarry in the Jurupa Mountains near Glen Avon, California*.
Yes, people will tell you that the name, La Brea Tar Pits, is a redundancy since La Brea means “tar” in Spanish. Rancho La Brea was one of the original colonial Spanish land grants ( History). Oil seeps upward from the Salt Lake oil field, in the northern part of the Los Angeles basin (, slide 6;, and the loss of volatile hydrocarbons leaves behind a tarry “gooey” residue AKA asphalt or bitumen.

Native Americans and later European settlers had used the tar for mortar, glue, caulking, medicine, and fuel ( These uses were also known 5000 years ago in the Middle East (Daniel Yergin, The Prize, 1991, p. 23-24). The Hancock family, who owned Rancho La Brea in the late 19th/early 20th centuries, initially mined the asphalt, but later went into oil production on the land. Animal bones found in the La Brea tar were originally thought to be those of modern cattle, but, in 1875, it was recognized that the bones were actually fossils. Studies since have been “the core of late Pleistocene NorthAmerican [paleontological] research”.
Excavating fossils 1913-15 at La Brea, Hancock Ranch, with oil wells in background ( Excavations).
The present-day La Brea ponds filled with water and a scum of tar are remnants of former fossil (numbered on map) or mined-asphalt (Lake Pit) excavation pits ( Besides these pits, a large number of tar-encased fossils are currently being “released” from Project 23: in 2006, during construction of an underground parking garage for LACMA, new fossil deposits were found. Twenty-three (therefore the name, Project 23) large wooden boxes were built around the masses of asphalt, to preserve the relationship of bones to each other, and removed, along with over 300 buckets of asphalt, for further examination. One can see remaining boxes outside on the grounds (photos below) with preliminary examination workstations and a blackboard describing the latest in what’s been found. Fossil exhibits, laboratories and research facilities are in the Page Museum onsite.
Pit 13
Tarry scum on surface of water in Lake Pit
Project 23 preliminary examination lab: Large wooden box, by blue wheelbarrow, is open, tent behind holds exam table space, other large boxes in background.
The fossils found at La Brea represent those from ~40,000 years ago (Late Pleistocene) into the Quaternary (<11,700 years ago) ( Quaternary fauna recovered are like those we live with today, but the Late Pleistocene fossils include large extinct mammals such as mastodons, mammoths, and the saber-toothed cats ( Pleistocene). Most of the recovered fossils are those of predators and scavengers, assumably packs of predators chasing lone prey, all getting stuck in the tar ( The causes of the extinction at the end of the Pleistocene are not clear. Climate change at the end of the last (Wisconsin) Ice Age, overkill by early man, or a combination of both are suggested ( A very controversial hypothesis is climate change caused by impact or low-atmosphere explosion of a meteor over Canada ( plus references for and against cited in linked PNAS paper and weblinks; so far I am not convinced of such an impact).

I exited the Tar Pits by the large Lake Pit and its sculpture group of three Columbian mammoths: the mother tragically mired in tar, with panicked offspring and mate on the shore. The sorrowful scenario, although not fine art, is one of my three personal favorite emotive sculptures, the other two being The Dying Gaul  and The Peace Monument, with Grief leaning on the shoulder of History. 
Lake Pit with mammoth family and bubbling methane in foreground and to left behind mired mother. Page Museum is building in background
After the wedding, we drove to Las Vegas. On the north side of highway I-15 right before the California-Nevada state line are the Mountain Pass rare-earth-element (REE) mine and processing plant**. (At the time of this 2015 trip, Mountain Pass was owned by Molycorp, but the operation went bankrupt and was sold in 2017 []).The north rim of the open pit can be seen from the highway. The ore body is the Sulphide Queen stock, a 1.4 billion-year-old carbonatite (note a second igneous reference in this post!). Carbonatite is an igneous rock with a large percent of carbonate minerals (so not the organic carbon of this blog’s focus), which at Mountain Pass are primarily calcite, dolomite, and barite. The REE-bearing ore mineral is bastnäsite. Uses for REE include high-efficiency magnets in modern wind turbines and electric motors, and as coatings in compact fluorescent light bulbs, all important technologies in both saving energy and the transition to non-fossil fuel-based energy systems.

*Some Levitated Mass links about the sculpture, rock source and transport:
** Links to information on Mountain Pass REE deposit:
Mine and processing plant (when owned by Molycorp):