Earth & Environmental Science

Share this article:

Earth & Environmental Science

  • Join our comunity:

Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective

By: , Posted on: April 19, 2016

Coal and Peat Vol 1 cover     Coal and Peat Vol 2 cover

Coal and Peat Vol 3 cover    coal and peat fires vol 4

Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective is the most comprehensive four-volume collection of interdisciplinary research ever published about such ancient and recent fires around the world.

The Mine Fire That Changed My Life

During a temporary teaching position in 1991 at Bloomsburg State University in Pennsylvania, I attended a field trip to the famous Centralia Mine Fire in eastern Pennsylvania. This fire began in May of 1962 when a landfill was ignited to reduce its volume and control rodents. Shortly thereafter, the Buck Mountain anthracite seam caught fire. The coal beneath the town of Centralia has burned ever since.

When I first entered Centralia, which was almost a ghost town by then, I was shocked at what I saw: valleys completely choked by thick smoke; a section of PA Route 61 sliced in half, part of which was (and still is) displaced downward into the underground workings of an abandoned coal-mine tunnel; a scorched Earth littered with sulfur-coated dead vegetation; numerous gas vents around which beautiful minerals nucleated; and dangerous sinkholes. One such sinkhole had almost claimed the life of twelve-year old Todd Domboski on February 14, 1981, before he was rescued from disappearing into oblivion by his sixteen-year old cousin Eric Wolfgang.

Then and there, I decided to learn more about the Centralia fire and I began to research the literature. The first article I published about coal fires was in the International Journal of Mathematical Geology (now Mathematical Geosciences). In that article, I used thermodynamic data to calculate a pressure-temperature stability diagram for the nucleation of orthorhombic sulfur from coal-fire gas.

As I continued to investigate the literature, I learned that coal fires are burning on every continent except Antarctica. They have destroyed floral and faunal habitats; polluted the atmosphere, water, and soil with poisonous combustion by-products; displaced communities of people; and are responsible for human illnesses including asthma, COPD, and heart failure while on occasion, causing fatalities.

The rest is history. Coal fires are an area of geoscience not traditionally discussed in undergraduate and graduate geoscience curricula. I decided to pursue them, and recently have developed an interest in peat fires.

For me, the attraction to coal and later peat-fires science was the highly interdisciplinary approach one must take to research these fires and in addition, the desire to educate people about them, the dangers they pose, and the steps necessary to mitigate and control or extinguish them.

I never studied anything about these fires in my undergraduate and graduate programs and they have nothing to do with my M.S. and Ph.D. theses. Regardless, a good education prepares one for exciting adventures down any “yellow brick road” they wish to follow.

The Four-Volume Book:

Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective is a four volume comprehensive collection of diverse and pioneering work about coal and peat-fires research conducted by scientists and engineers around the world. It contains thousands of tables, graphs, color photographs, videos, and in addition, multimedia presentations given at professional conferences about this subject. The primary audience for this publication is the science- attentive, general public as well as amateur and professional mineralogists, petrologists, coal geologists, geophysicists, mining engineers, environmental and remote sensing scientists, and anyone involved in technical aspects of coal mining, coal fires, and combustion metamorphism. This tome is also a valuable source of information about the socio-economic and geo-environmental impacts of coal and peat fires. As one example, the mineral and select gas analyses presented in the book and companion website will be of great interest to environmental scientists, academics, people employed in the coal industry, and anyone interested in minerals and pollution.

Volume 1 is devoted to the topic of coal geology and coal combustion. Volume 2 contains photographs and multimedia tours of coal and peat fires burning around the world. Volume 3 is devoted to case studies about coal fires, and Volume 4 is devoted to the geology and combustion of peat, including case studies about peat fires.

A companion website for the book contains a data repository, multimedia presentations, and a selection of additional coal and peat-fires related information, including an evolving interactive world map of coal and peat fires. The website, periodically updated with new information, is at:

The contents of this work can be used to design and teach courses in environmental science, coal and peat geology, mineralogy, metamorphic processes, remote sensing, mining engineering, etc. A variety of case studies on a country by country basis, including prehistoric and historic fires, encompass a wide range of geoscience disciplines including mineralogy, geochemical thermodynamics, medical geology, numerical modelling, and remote sensing; make this work a cutting edge publication in “global coal- and peat-fires science.”

The four-volume book is designed so that it also has appeal for leisure-browse through at a “coffee table.” Explanatory text is balanced by visually impressive graphics. Although the technical level of this work will vary, the science-attentive lay person will be able to understand and enjoy major portions of it.

Features and Benefits of the Four-Volumes

table four volumes


Coal and Peat Vol 1 cover    Coal and Peat Vol 2 cover

Coal and Peat Vol 3 cover    coal and peat fires vol 4

Click here to buy Volume 1

Click here to buy Volume 2

Click here to buy Volume 3

Click here to buy Volume 4


About the Senior Editor

Glen Stracher biopic

Glenn B. Stracher is Professor of Geology and Physics at East Georgia State College, University System of Georgia, Swainsboro, Georgia, USA. After receiving his M.S. in Geology and a Ph.D. in Geology and Engineering Mechanics from the University of Nebraska, he served as a Lady Davis Scholar at the Institute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel. He was also nominated by the United Nations as a Fulbright Scholar while in graduate school before completing his postdoctoral work in Israel. Dr. Stracher is the former chair of the Geological Society of America’s Coal Geology Division and served on the society’s External Awards Committee. He is the co-author of three chemical thermodynamics books, published in English and Japanese, and taught graduate level courses in this subject at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. In 2010, he was named a University System of Georgia “Shining Star,” by the state’s Board of Regents, for excellence in research and teaching. In 2015, he was named a Geological Society of America Fellow for his contributions to coal-fires science.

Trained as a structural geologist, mineralogist, and metamorphic petrologist, the main focus of his research since 1995; and for which he is internationally known, is coal fires burning around the world. In addition to numerous peer-reviewed publications about coal fires, he has convened coal-fires symposia with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Geological Society of America (GSA), and led four GSA National coal-fires field trips. Dr. Stracher is the editor of the Geological Society of America book, Geology of Coal Fires: Case Studies from Around the World. He also edited the International Journal of Coal Geology special publication, Coal Fires Burning Around the World: A Global Catastrophe.

His latest project is a four-volume book published by Elsevier and entitled: Coal and Peat Fires: A Global Perspective

The China University of Mining and Technology in Xuzhou, Jiangsu, has invited him to teach short courses about coal and peat fires using this four-volume book. He has also received an invitation to visit and do research at Tianjin University in China.

Dr. Stracher appears in two National Geographic Channel (NGC) movies about coal-fires: Wild Fires, part of a seven part NGC series entitled Built for Destruction, and the more recent movie, Underground Inferno, that has won several international film-festival awards. Currently, he is working with historian Timo Hauge at the German Mining Museum in Bochum, Germany, on a permanent display about mine fires. The display in the 37,000 square foot museum will open in 2018 and feature much of Dr. Stracher’s work, as well as photos taken by Glenn and Janet Stracher during their numerous field expeditions. The German Mining Museum is the most famous mining museum in the world. The web address of the museum is:

Details about his research projects, teaching, publications, and education are available at:

About the Co-editors

Dr. Anupma PrakashDr. Anupma Prakash is Professor of Remote Sensing Geology and Geophysics at the Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA. After receiving her M.Sc. degree in Geology from Lucknow University, India, and a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences from the Indian Institute of Technology – Roorkee, India, she moved to the Netherlands to work for the International Institute of Geo-information Surveys and Earth Sciences (ITC), Enschede, The Netherlands. She is internationally recognized for her research on the use of remote sensing and geographic information system (GIS) techniques for investigating surface and underground coal-mine fires. Her coal-fires research involves fire detection, mapping, monitoring, depth estimation, characterization, and quantitative estimation of environmental impacts.

Since 2002, Dr. Prakash has used remote sensing for mapping Earth surface composition and change due to climate change and anthropogenic activities. She serves on the thermal infrared science working group for NASA’s planned HyspIRI satellite mission.

Details about her research projects, teaching, publications, education, and outreach activities are available at:

Dr. Elina SokolDr. Ellina V. Sokol is head of the combustion metamorphism research group at the Institute of Geology and Mineralogy, Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Novosibirsk.  She received her M.Sc. degree in Geochemistry at Novosibirsk State University and a Ph.D. in Metamorphic Petrology from the Institute of Geology and Geophysics of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences.  Her primary areas of research are the mineralogy, petrogenesis, environmental geochemistry, and metamorphic facies associated with combustion metamorphism due to burning coal and hydrocarbon gases. Her work includes the first published studies about burnt rocks from spoil heaps in the coal basins of the Urals; ancient coal fires and related combustion metamorphic rocks of SW Siberia; and combustion metamorphic events associated with hydrocarbon, gas-generated mud volcanic provinces of the Black Sea and Middle East.  She is the co-author of over 80 scientific articles and 4 books.

Detains about the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences are found at

Dr. Guillermo ReinDr. Guillermo Rein is a Senior Lecturer in Mechanical Engineering at the Imperial College London and a 2010-11 Royal Academy of Engineering/Leverhulme Trust Senior Research Fellow. He received M.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of California at Berkeley, USA, after completing thesis work about smoldering combustion modeling, sponsored by NASA.

Dr. Rein is an internationally recognized expert on smoldering combustion phenomena. His research encompasses a wide range of multidisciplinary topics using both modeling and experimental approaches; in four main areas: smoldering fires in the Earth system, reactive-solid materials, fire dynamics, and wildfires.

Details about the research projects and publications of his group are available at:

About the Author of the Online World Map of Coal and Peat Fires

This interactive map is available on the companion Elsevier website for the book:

Dr. Rudiger GensDr. Rudiger Gens is a remote sensing scientist at the Alaska Satellite Facility (ASF), Geophysical Institute, University of Alaska Fairbanks, USA. He earned his M.Sc. degree in Surveying and Mapping and a Doctoral Degree in Engineering from the University of Hannover, Germany. His research specialization is in the processing and application of synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and Interferometric SAR (InSAR) data.

At the ASF, Dr. Gens has developed a variety of software tools for making SAR data more accessible, provided technical support to a large remote sensing community, and he has used satellite data to advance scientific understanding of the processes that guide changes in Arctic  landscapes.

Dr. Gens is also a cooperating faculty in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at UAF, where he teaches courses in the principles and applications of SAR and InSAR. In addition, he offers customized training courses and conference workshops.  Dr. Gens is an associate editor of the International Journal of Remote Sensing, a senior member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Geoscience and Remote Sensing Society, and co-chair of the International Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ISPRS) VII/2 working group on SAR interferometry.

Details about his research projects, teaching, publications, education, and outreach activities are available at:

Connect with us on social media and stay up to date on new articles

Earth & Environmental Science

The fields of Earth science, planetary sciences, and environmental science encompass disciplines critical to the future of our world and its inhabitants. Our well-being depends on a thorough understanding of air and water resources, soil chemistry, atmospheric dynamics, geology, and geochemistry, along with a myriad of other aspects of the environment we live in. Elsevier supports the efforts of researchers and scholars in these areas with content that meets their cross-disciplinary needs: journals, books, eBooks, and online tools that span computer science, chemistry, energy, engineering, biology, agronomy, ecology, environmental impact and many other topics fundamental to the study of our world. Learn more about our Earth and Environmental Science books here.