June 5, 2023
Two coal miners standing on top of a massive pile of coal.

How is carbon formed?

Humans have been burning coal for thousands of years. Since the Industrial Revolution, coal has become a major source of electricity and global warming. But where does carbon come from? By studying how coal is formed, scientists can learn both about the deep past and what to expect when different coals are burned.

Coal is formed when bog plants are buried, compressed, and heated to become sedimentary rock in a process called carbonization. “Very basically, coal is fossilized plants,” James Hower (opens in new tab), a petrologist at the University of Kentucky, told Live Science. The creation of these plants fossils it involves “a lot of geological accidents,” he said.

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