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Parameters determining the carbon isotopic composition of coal and fossil wood in the early Miocene Oberdorf lignite seam (Styrian Basin, Austria)


, : Parameters determining the carbon isotopic composition of coal and fossil wood in the early Miocene Oberdorf lignite seam (Styrian Basin, Austria). Organic Geochemistry 33(8): 1001-1024

Petrographical and geochemical data of gelified and ungelified fossil wood from the Early Miocene Oberdorf lignite seam (Styrian Basin, Austria) provide evidence that the early diagenetic, aerobic degradation of wood by fungi may be followed by further decomposition under reducing conditions by the activity of anaerobic bacteria. Based on the molecular compositions of terpenoid hydrocarbons, the wood fragments in the lignite are identified as gymnosperms. This result is corroborated by the mean isotopic composition (delta (super 13) C = -24.2 per mil) of the macrofossils. The isotopic difference between fossil wood and extracted cellulose of most samples (3.9-2.5 per mil) is higher than in modern trees, which can be explained by the smaller effect of (super 13) C discrimination during decomposition of cellulose when compared with wood. The mean carbon isotope values found for gymnosperms and coals (-24.2 per mil and -24.7 per mil, respectively) confirm the results from biomarker analyses indicating that the peat-forming vegetation of the Oberdorf seam was dominated by gymnosperm taxa. Minor variation in the relative contributions of gymnosperms and angiosperms to coal deposition is of negligible influence on the isotopic composition of the coals. Cross-correlations between delta (super 13) C of the coals, soluble organic matter yield, and the proportions of liptinite macerals of higher-plant origin imply that the carbon isotopic composition may be affected by the contents of plant lipids because of their delta (super 13) C values ranging from 5 to 10 per mil less than whole-plant tissue values. An isotopic shift of the coals towards more negative values due to the activity of prokaryotes (i.e. anaerobic bacteria) in organic matter degradation is proposed. The results obtained from the Early Miocene Oberdorf lignite indicate that the carbon isotope ratios of the coals are primarily affected by varying contributions of different parts of whole-plant tissue, due to their different isotopic and molecular compositions (e.g. epicuticular leaf waxes, resins, wood) and their different decay-resistance against the early diagenetic changes involved in organic matter decomposition. Carbon cycling during anoxic decomposition of plant-derived organic matter is assumed to affect the delta (super 13) C values of coal. delta (super 13) C values of wood and extracted cellulose are affected only to a minor extent.

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DOI: 10.1016/s0146-6380(02)00054-2


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