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The Main Seam in the Greymouth coalfield (Upper Cretaceous Paparoa Coal Measures) is exceptionally thick (>25m) and occurs in three locally thick pods, termed north, middle, and south. These pods are separated by areas of thin or absent (“barren”) coal. The barren zone between the north and middle coal pods is characterized by a sequence that is 60 m thick comprising relatively thin (1–2.5 m thick) but laterally extensive (up to 500 m) sandstone units. The orientation of both the thin and the barren coal zones is approximately east to west. This is coincident with basement fault systems that occur in the region. Therefore, the stacked nature of the sandstones within this narrow zone may be a result of differential subsidence across basement fault blocks.

The Main Seam, like the sandstone units in the “barren” zone, is inferred to represent a stacked sequence. Two zones of thin partings (<20 cm in thickness) occur in the coal, and even where these zones do not occur, an interval of abundant vitrain bands is present. As has been suggested for other coal beds, intervals with high vitrain content may represent a demarcation between different paleomire systems, or, as in the case of the Main Seam, periods where the paleomire was rejuvenated with plant nutrients, allowing continued aggradation of the mire. The low ash yield (<5% dry basis) indicates that the Main Seam was rarely affected by flood incursions. This may have been the result of both doming of the peat surface as well as restriction of the dominant sediment flow by syn-sedimentary faulting.

Palynological analyses indicate that the Main Seam mire throughout most of its time was dominated by gymnosperms, particularly a relative of the Huron pine (Lagarostrobus franklinii). However, a distinct floral change to a Gleichenia-dominated mire occurs in the upper few meters of the Main Seam. This vegetation change may have resulted from basinwide environmental or climatic change. Gleichenia does not produce much biomass, and if it was the dominant mire plant it may not have been able to keep peat accumulation rates higher than subsidence. Whether the cause was a decrease in peat accumulation or a drying of mire, the result would have been lowering of the surface to a degree that flooding and final termination would be likely.

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