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The coal systems concept may be used to organize the geologic data for a relatively large, complex area, such as the Appalachian basin, in order to facilitate coal assessments in the area. The concept is especially valuable in subjective assessments of future coal production, which would require a detailed understanding of the coal geology and coal chemistry of the region. In addition, subjective assessments of future coal production would be enhanced by a geographical information system that contains the geologic and geochemical data commonly prepared for conventional coal assessments.

Coal systems are generally defined as one or more coal beds or groups of coal beds that have had the same or similar genetic history from their inception as peat deposits, through their burial, diagenesis, and epigenesis to their ultimate preservation as lignite, bituminous coal, or anthracite. The central and northern parts of the Appalachian basin contain seven coal systems (Coal Systems A–G). These systems may be defined generally on the following criteria: (1) on the primary characteristics of their paleopeat deposits, (2) on the stratigraphic framework of the Paleozoic coal measures, (3) on the relative abundance of coal beds within the major stratigraphic groupings, (4) on the amount of sulfur related to the geologic and climatic conditions under which paleopeat deposits accumulated, and (5) on the rank of the coal (lignite to anthracite).

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