Coal Petrology and the Application of Statistics to Geology
My dissertation for my D. Ed. degree involved applying multivariate statistics to study the interrelationships among a large data set of measured physical, chemical, and petrographic coal parameters. Essentially, the geological problem to be solved is as follows: In the absence of our direct observation, coals now exposed in different geographic locations and in different stratigraphic positions have been formed from different plant materials in different environmental settings during different geological time periods and have been buried to different depths and heated to different temperatures. Because we cannot control any of these variables in nature, we let them all vary simultaneously and use multivariate statistical techniques to reveal the important independent sources of variation within this set of measurements, implying cause/effect relationships. With this technique we gain insight into the important coal forming processes by comparing our results with the body of observations and the theories that have been developed by other investigators who have studied other samples using other techniques.
In addition to using problem solving skills, I also enhanced my abilities in computer programming and statistics, and I developed a deeper understanding of terrestrial sedimentary environments, metamorphism of organic materials, coal petrology, coal chemistry, and coal genesis. The problem solving, computer programming and statistical portions of the experience have continued to be useful skills for me in the years after the completion of the degree program. The coal petrology, however, requires equipment of a specialized nature, and the information concerning coal genesis forms a relatively minor component of the Introductory Geology course which I teach. Thus, although I find coal petrology and its related fields to hold continued fascination for me, and although I maintain my efforts to stay informed about developments in this area of geological research, I do not continue to participate actively with research in this specialized field of geology.