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Fresh-water diatoms are present in coal, and tonsteins (altered volcanic ash) are interbedded with the coal, in the Miocene Venado Formation on the southwest margin of the Limon Basin, in Provincia Alajuela, northern Costa Rica. The Venado Formation is composed of more than 300 m of mudstone, siltstone, sandstone, limestone, volcaniclastics, and coal beds. The coal beds are of unknown lateral extent and mainly occur in the middle part of the formation. The Pataste coal bed occurs near the middle of the formation and is divided into three parts by two tonstein layers. The abundance of biogenic opaline material (diatoms) in the coal is believed to be a direct response to an influx of silica from volcanic tuffs that Later altered to the tonsteins.
Diatoms are a useful microscopic tool for identifying the depositional environments of the Pataste coal deposit. The diatoms identified include Aulacosira ambigua, Pinnularia sp., Eunotia spp., and Achnanthes exigua, among others. The abundance of Aulacosira arnbigua suggests that an open-water lacustrine environment was present locally. Achnanthes exigua and the remaining diatom species are benthic forms that lived in shallow fresh-water to slightly acidic swamp environments. The different types of diatoms found in the coal indicate that swamp environments were intermixed with lacustrine environments during the formation of the peat deposit or that the coal records environmental changes through time.