Dr. Glenn Stracher, Prof. Emeritus of Geology & Physics, East Georgia State College
Abstract: Thousands of coal seam and coal-waste piles, ignited by natural causes or anthropogenic activities, are burning on every continent except Antarctica. The number of anthropogenic fires has increased in the major coal-producing countries since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the United Kingdom. Coal fires consume a valuable energy resource. The toxic gases and particulate matter they emit obliterate ecosystems and plague human communities with disease, fatalities, and dangerous land subsidence; while consuming buildings, roads, parks, and other structures built by people. However, coal-fires are also utilitarian because they generate pyrometamorphic rocks used in construction projects; transform landscapes into new ones of interest to scientists and engineers; and they lead to the formation of paralavas, coal-tar, and a variety of mineral assemblages that are fascinating to study. Although extinguishing a coal fire requires eliminating at least one of the three agents of the “fire triangle,” these fires are often impossible to extinguish because of current fire-fighting technology or economic reasons. Although not traditionally in the forefront of geologic research, the global significance of “coal-fires science” in recent years and the need for multi-disciplinary fires research have increased exponentially. As a consequence, scientists, engineers, and political scientists around the world are now, more than ever before, collaborating on diverse coal-fire projects and publishing their findings in journals, books, and online.