Stratigraphic control of hot fluids on anthracitization, Lackawanna synclinorium, Pennsylvania

Michael J. Harrison, Stephen Marshak, Charles M. Onasch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The Lackawanna synclinorium of Pennsylvania contains abundant coal that was altered to anthracite rank during the Late Paleozoic Alleghanian orogeny. Why did the coal in the synclinorium undergo anthracitization? Two alternatives have been suggested. (1) The region was buried deeply during and/or after the Alleghanian orogeny and thus became hot in response to Earth's geothermal gradient; and (2) hot fluids migrating from the orogen toward the foreland carried heat into the coal and caused anthracitization. If the second hypothesis is correct, the region should contain evidence that hot fluids passed through the coal. Field observations, illite-crystallinity studies and fluid-inclusion analyses indicate that the coal-bearing Pottsville and Llewellyn Formations, and an underlying detachment fault, called the Pottchunk fault (at or slightly below the base of the Pottsville Formation), acted as a regional aquifer for the migration of hot fluids during the Alleghanian orogeny. The presence of quartz veins and the hydrothermal minerals tosudite and pyrophyllite in strata above the Pottchunk fault, and the apparent absence of an illite-crystallinity burial gradient in the underlying strata, suggest that fluids migrated through large pores in coarse-grained sandstones, through abundant fractures that developed in response to Alleghanian deformation, and along the Pottchunk fault. The quartz veins, tosudite and pyrophyllite mineralization do not occur below the Pottchunk fault (except at one locality), suggesting that fluid flow was greater above the fault, perhaps because fracturing accompanying deformation increased permeability of the fault's hanging wall. Fluid inclusions in the Pottsville and Llewellyn Formations indicate fluids achieved a minimum temperature of 270 °C at a depth of ∼3.1-8.5 km. Heat-flow calculations constrained by fluid-inclusion data show the heat carried by the migrating fluids through the coal-bearing strata was sufficient to elevate the rock temperature to anthracite-grade conditions (∼250 °C), assuming that the fluid event lasted about 1 year. Thus, deep burial (6-9 km) of the coal-bearing strata in the Lackawanna synclinorium was not required for anthracitization. Anthracitization was likely the result of stratigraphically controlled hot fluid migration through the coal-bearing strata at shallow depths (≤5 km).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)85-103
Number of pages19
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jan 16 2004


  • Alleghanian brine migration
  • Fluid inclusions
  • Illite crystallinity
  • Lackawanna synclinorium
  • Northern Anthracite basin
  • Pennsylvania anthracite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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