Coal formation on Svalbard 60 million years ago

Coal formation on Svalbard 60 million years ago

Top photo: Eva Therese Jenssen.

In a new PhD thesis Charlotta J. Lüthje investigates how the coal layers in Svalbard were formed some 60 million years ago. Her results shed new light on the formation process. Lüthje will defend her thesis on Monday 8 September at UNIS.

4 September 2008
Press release from University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS) and University of Bergen

On 8 September 2008 Charlotta J. Lüthje defends her PhD thesis “Transgressive Development of Coal-bearing Coastal Plain to Shallow Marine Setting in a Flexural Compressional basin, Paleocene, Svalbard, Arctic Norway”.

The coal-bearing layers on Svalbard are of great importance for the communities on the Arctic archipelago. Coal provides electricity, heat, employment and economic stability for Svalbard. The PhD thesis is an investigation into how the coal layers were formed. The results from this investigation provide a better understanding of the amount of coal present at Svalbard, in addition to a better general understanding of the formation of coal in coastal areas.

Formed in low relief coastal plains
The coal layers were formed as peat bogs around 60 million years ago, during a period when the Svalbard climate was similar to the climate Northern Europe has today. The depositional environment has previously been described as flood plains in connection with river systems that created tidally influenced deltas along the coastline. Thorough investigations of sediments from drill cores and field observations show that these coal layers rather were formed in a low relief coastal plain without any significant impacts by river systems.

The coast line was dominated by tidally influenced lagoons and marshes, which were protected against waves and storms by barrier bars. Traces of Pantodonts, a pre-historic mammal about the size of a small hippo, have been found in these coastal plains. Similar environments can today be found along the North Sea coast in southern Denmark and northern parts of Germany. These areas are characterized by large inland areas with peat bogs and marshes with very limited sediment influx, protected by the sand- and gravel dominated coast.

The depositional basin was formed after the collision between Greenland and Svalbard. Over time the basin became deeper and the surrounding plains were flooded and covered by marine deposits.

Lüthje’s PhD project was financed by UNIS and SNSK, the Norwegian Spitsbergen coal company. SNSK has also provided access to all core materials used in the project and also provided opportunities for investigations and samplings in the coal mines. The PhD work was conducted at UNIS and the Royal Holloway University of London (RHUL).

The thesis will be defended at UNIS on Monday 8 September 2008 at 13:15.
Charlotta J. Lüthje will give a trial lecture called ”The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM): Evidence, causes and implications” the same day at 10:15 at UNIS. Both lectures will take place in the auditorium “Lassegrotta”.

Charlotta Lüthje

Charlotta Lüthje

About the candidate
Charlotta J. Lüthje (34) was born in Stockholm and completed her Cand. Scient degree at the University of Oslo in 1999. She has worked as a sedimentologist in Copenhagen and London before starting her PhD degree at UiB/UNIS/RHUL.

Lüthje has several years’ worth of field experience from the Arctic. Currently she is working as a sedimentologist at the Danish oil company Dong Energy in Stavanger, Norway.

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