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Microbial sulfidogenesis in ferrihydrite-rich environments: Effects on iron mineralogy and arsenic mobility

Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.gca.2011.03.001
  • Chemistry
  • Earth Science
  • Physics


Abstract Microbial sulfidogenesis plays a potentially important role in Fe and As biogeochemistry within wetland soils, sediments and aquifers. This study investigates the specific effects of microbial sulfidogenesis on Fe mineralogy and associated As mobility in mildly acidic (pH 6) and mildly basic (pH 8) advective-flow environments. A series of experiments were conducted using advective-flow columns, with an initial solid-phase comprising As(III)-bearing ferrihydrite-coated quartz sand. Columns for each pH treatment were inoculated with the sulfate-reducing bacteria Desulfovibrio vulgaris, and were compared to additional abiotic control columns. Over a period of 28 days, microbial sulfidogenesis (as coupled to the incomplete oxidation of lactate) caused major changes in Fe mineralogy, including replacement of ferrihydrite by mackinawite and magnetite at the in-flow end of the inoculated columns. At pH 8, the Fe 2+ produced by electron transfer between sulfide and ferrihydrite was mainly retained near its zone of formation. In contrast, at pH 6, much of the produced Fe 2+ was transported with advecting groundwater, facilitating the downstream Fe 2+-catalyzed transformation of ferrihydrite to goethite. At both pH 6 and pH 8, the sulfide-driven reductive dissolution of ferrihydrite and its replacement by mackinawite at the in-flow end of the inoculated columns resulted in substantial mobilization of As into the pore-water. At pH 8, this caused the downstream As concentrations within the inoculated columns to be greater than the corresponding abiotic column. However, the opposite occurred under pH 6 conditions, with the Fe 2+-catalyzed transformation of ferrihydrite to goethite in the inoculated columns causing a decrease in downstream As concentrations compared to the abiotic column. Although thermodynamically favorable at intermediate times and depth intervals within the inoculated columns, solid As sulfide phases were undetectable by As XANES spectroscopy. Our findings show that microbial sulfidogenesis can trigger significant As mobilization in subsurface environments with advective groundwater flow. The results also demonstrate that formation of mackinawite by sulfidization of ferric (hydr)oxides is not effective for the immobilization of As, whereas the Fe 2+-catalyzed transformation of ferrihydrite to goethite under mildly acidic conditions may mitigate As mobility.

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