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Baked shale and slag formed by the burning of coal beds

January 1, 1994

The baking and reddening of large masses of strata caused by the burning of coal beds is a striking feature of the landscape in most of the great western coal-bearing areas. The general character and broader effects of the burning have been described by many writers, but the fact that in places enough heat is generated to fuse and thoroughly recrystallize the overlying shale and sandstone has received less attention. Some of the natural slags thus formed simulate somewhat abnormal igneous rocks, but others consist largely of rare and little known minerals. A wide range in the mineral composition of such slags is to be expected, depending on the composition of the original sediment and the conditions of fusion and cooling. These products of purely thermal metamorphism offer a fertile field for petrologic investigation. The writer has observed the effects produced by the burning of coal beds in several localities in Montana, particularly along upper Tongue River in the southern part of the State, in the district lying southeast of the mouth of Bighorn River, and in the Little Sheep Mountain coal field north of Miles City. A number of specimens of the rock formed have been examined under the microscope, though time has not been available for a systematic examination. The writer is greatly indebted to Mr. E. S. Larsen for assistance in the study of some of the minerals.