Sulfate Reduction at a Lignite Seam: Microbial Abundance and Activity

Microb Ecol. 2001 Oct;42(3):238-247. doi: 10.1007/s00248-001-1014-8.


In a combined isotope geochemical and microbiological investigation, a setting of multiple aquifers was characterized. Biologically mediated redox processes were observed in the aquifers situated in marine sands of Tertiary age and overlying Quaternary gravel deposits. Intercalated lignite seams define the aquitards, which separate the aquifers. Bacterial oxidation of organic matter is evident from dissolved inorganic carbon characterized by average carbon isotope values between ?18.4 per thousand and ?15.7 per thousand (PDB). Strongly positive sulfur isotope values of up to +50 per thousand (CTD) for residual sulfate indicate sulfate reduction under closed system conditions with respect to sulfate availability. Both, hydrochemical and isotope data are thus consistent with the recent activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). Microbiological investigations revealed the presence of an anaerobic food chain in the aquifers. Most-probable-number (MPN) determinations for SRB and fermenting microorganisms reached highest values at the interface between aquifer and lignite seam (1.5 x 103 cells/g sediment dry mass). Five strains of SRB were isolated from highest MPN dilutions. Spore-forming bacteria appeared to dominate the SRB population. Sulfate reduction rates were determined by the 35S-radiotracer method. A detailed assessment indicates an increase in the reduction rate in proximity to the lignite seam, with a maximum turnover of 8.4 mM sulfate/a, suggesting that lignite-drived compounds represent the substrate for sulfate reduction.