Correlation chart of Pennsylvanian rocks in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania showing approximate position of coal beds, coal zones, and key stratigraphic units

Professional Paper 1708-D.2
By: , and 
Edited by: Leslie F. Ruppert and Robert T. Ryder



The Appalachian basin, one of the largest Pennsylvanian bituminous coal-producing regions in the world, currently contains nearly one-half of the top 15 coal-producing States in the United States (Energy Information Agency, 2006). Anthracite of Pennsylvanian age occurs in synclinal basins in eastern Pennsylvania, but production is minimal. A simplified correlation chart was compiled from published and unpublished sources as a means of visualizing currently accepted stratigraphic relations between the rock formations, coal beds, coal zones, and key stratigraphic units in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The thickness of each column is based on chronostratigraphic divisions (Lower, Middle, and Upper Pennsylvanian), not the thickness of strata. Researchers of Pennsylvanian strata in the Appalachian basin also use biostratigraphic markers and other relative and absolute geologic age associations between the rocks to better understand the spatial relations of the strata. Thus, the stratigraphic correlation data in this chart should be considered provisional and will be updated as coal-bearing rocks within the Appalachian coal regions continue to be evaluated.

Most geologic formations are identified and defined by the distinctive lithologic features they contain. However, formations of Pennsylvanian age in the Appalachian basin and the Pennsylvania Anthracite region have traditionally been described and named to reflect the presence or absence of economic coal beds and coarse-grained sandstone units, most of which have since been proven to be locally or regionally discontinuous (Ruppert and Rice, 2001). Many of the stratigraphic names and boundaries used for the coals and other geologic units in the Pennsylvanian rocks differ between States or regions (fig. 1). Because local and regional stratigraphic complexities occur within some States, a multiplicity of State-specific names is introduced that may be confusing to those conducting regional geologic assessments in the basin.

Nonetheless, many of these stratigraphic names and boundaries have some elements that allow for regional stratigraphic correlation. For instance, many coals in the northern Appalachian basin coal region are easier to trace over greater distances than coals in the central and southern Appalachian basin coal regions (fig. 2). The Upper Pennsylvanian Pittsburgh coal bed (fig. 1) of the northern Appalachian basin coal region, for example, occurs as a synchronogenic bed deposited on a laterally continuous surface of sediments (Cross, 1954; Tewalt and others, 2001). The base of the Pittsburgh coal bed is designated as the contact between the Conemaugh Group (Upper Pennsylvanian) and the overlying Monongahela Group in western Pennsylvania, western Maryland, Ohio, and West Virginia (fig. 1). Therefore, in areas where the Pittsburgh coal bed is present, there is little controversy over its position or the placement of the boundary between the Conemaugh and Monongahela Groups.

In other regions of the basin, group and formation boundaries are more difficult to identify over extensive areas. One example is the placement of the contact between the New River Formation and the overlying Kanawha Formation—a boundary that is not easily defined beyond the area where these units were first defined in West Virginia. At the type section of the Kanawha Formation, the base of the Lower Douglas coal zone (fig. 1) defines the contact between the Kanawha Formation and the underlying New River Formation (Rice and others, 1994b). However, subsequent mapping has demonstrated that the Lower Douglas coal zone is regionally discontinuous and in many parts of West Virginia is absent (Blake and others, 2002). Where absent, the Nuttall Sandstone Member of the underlying New River Formation sometimes occurs in the stratigraphic position of the Lower Douglas coal zone. Yet, even the Nuttall Sandstone Member has been found to be regionally discontinuous and of varying thickness throughout its extent, features that hinder its use as a regional stratigraphic marker bed in the Appalachian basin.

Because of the many names used to identify individual coal beds and coal zones in the historic Appalachian basin coal-mining districts, coal bed designations may differ even more than stratigraphic nomenclature. In eastern Kentucky, northwest of the Pine Mountain thrust fault on the Cumberland overthrust sheet, for example, coal beds or coal zones equivalent to the Lower Elkhorn coal zone (within the Pikeville Formation) are identified also as the Eagle coal zone, Pond Creek coal zone, and Blue Gem coal bed (fig. 1). Southeast of the Pine Mountain thrust fault, yet still in Kentucky, equivalent coals in this same interval are known as the Imboden and Rich Mountain. Moreover, this same interval of coal is identified as the Blue Gem coal in Tennessee, the Imboden coal bed or Campbell Creek or Pond Creek coal zones in Virginia, and the Eagle coal zone in West Virginia.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Correlation chart of Pennsylvanian rocks in Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio, Maryland, and Pennsylvania showing approximate position of coal beds, coal zones, and key stratigraphic units
Series title Professional Paper
Series number 1708
Chapter D.2
DOI 10.3133/pp1708D.2
Year Published 2014
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Eastern Energy Resources Science Center
Description iii, 9 p.
Larger Work Type Report
Larger Work Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Larger Work Title Coal and petroleum resources in the Appalachian basin: distribution, geologic framework, and geochemical character
Country United States
Other Geospatial Appalachian basin
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details