What is COAL SEAM FIRE? What does COAL SEAM FIRE mean? COAL SEAM FIRE meaning - COAL SEAM FIRE definition - COAL SEAM FIRE explanation.
Source: Wikipedia.org article, adapted under https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ license.
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A coal seam fire or mine fire is the underground smouldering of a coal deposit, often in a coal mine. Such fires have economic, social and ecological impacts. They are often started by lightning, grass, or forest fires, and are particularly insidious because they continue to smoulder underground after surface fires have been extinguished, sometimes for many years, before flaring up and restarting forest and brush fires nearby. They propagate in a creeping fashion along mine shafts and cracks in geologic structures.
Coal fires are a serious health and safety hazard, affecting the environment by releasing toxic fumes, reigniting grass, brush, or forest fires, and causing subsidence of surface infrastructure such as roads, pipelines, electric lines, bridge supports, buildings and homes. Whether started by humans or by natural causes, coal seam fires continue to burn for decades or even centuries until either the fuel source is exhausted, a permanent groundwater table is encountered, the depth of the burn becomes greater than the ground’s capacity to subside and vent, or humans intervene. Because they burn underground, coal seam fires are extremely difficult and costly to extinguish, and are unlikely to be suppressed by rainfall. There are strong similarities between coal fires and peat fires.
Across the world, thousands of underground coal fires are burning at any given moment. The problem is most acute in industrializing, coal-rich nations such as China. Global coal fire emissions are estimated to cause 40 tons of mercury to enter the atmosphere annually, and to represent three percent of the world's annual CO2 emissions.
Coal seam fires can be divided into near-surface fires, in which seams extend to the surface and the oxygen required for their ignition comes from the atmosphere, and fires in deep underground mines, where the oxygen comes from the ventilation.
Mine fires may begin as a result of an industrial accident, generally involving a gas explosion. Historically, some mine fires were started when bootleg mining was stopped by authorities, usually by blowing the mine up. Many recent mine fires have started from people burning trash in a landfill that was in proximity to abandoned coal mines, including the much-publicized Centralia, Pennsylvania, fire, which has been burning since 1962. Of the hundreds of mine fires in the United States burning today, most are found in the state of Pennsylvania.
Some fires along coal seams are natural occurrences. Some coals may self-ignite at temperatures as low as 40 °C (104 °F) for brown coal in the right conditions of moisture and grain size. The fire usually begins a few decimeters inside the coal at a depth in which the permeability of the coal allows the inflow of air but in which the ventilation does not remove the heat which is generated.
Two basic factors determine whether spontaneous combustion occurs or not, the ambient temperature and the grain size:
The higher the ambient temperature, the more quickly the oxidation reactions proceed.
The grain size and structure determine its surface area. Kinetics will be limited by availability of reactant, which in this case is carbon exposed to oxygen.
Wildfires (lightning-caused or others) can ignite the coal closer to the surface or entrance, and the smouldering fire can spread through the seam, creating subsidence that may open further seams to oxygen and spawn future wildfires when the fire breaks to the surface. Prehistoric clinker outcrops in the American West are the result of prehistoric coal fires that left a residue that resists erosion better than the matrix, leaving buttes and mesa. It is estimated that Australia's Burning Mountain, the oldest known coal fire, has burned for 6,000 years.
Globally, thousands of inextinguishable mine fires are burning, especially in China where poverty, lack of government regulations and runaway development combine to create an environmental disaster. Modern strip mining exposes smoldering coal seams to the air, revitalizing the flames.