High concentrations of dissolved iron in ground water of coastal plain or alluvial aquifers contribute to the biofouling of public supply wells for which treatment and remediation is costly. Many of these aquifers, however, contain zones in which microbial sulfate reduction and the associated precipitation of iron-sulfide minerals decreases iron mobility. The principal water-bearing aquifer (Magothy Aquifer of Cretaceous age) in Suffolk County, New York, contains localized sulfate-reducing zones in and near lignite deposits, which generally are associated with clay lenses. Microbial analyses of core samples amended with [14C]-acetate indicate that microbial sulfate reduction is the predominant terminal-electron-accepting process (TEAP) in poorly permeable, lignite-rich sediments at shallow depths and near the ground water divide. The sulfate-reducing zones are characterized by abundant lignite and iron-sulfide minerals, low concentrations of Fe(III) oxyhydroxides, and by proximity to clay lenses that contain pore water with relatively high concentrations of sulfate and dissolved organic carbon. The low permeability of these zones and, hence, the long residence time of ground water within them, permit the preservation and (or) allow the formation of iron-sulfide minerals, including pyrite and marcasite. Both sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) and iron-reducing bacteria (IRB) are present beneath and beyond the shallow sulfate-reducing zones. A unique Fe(III)-reducing organism, MD-612, was found in core sediments from a depth of 187 m near the southern shore of Long Island. The distribution of poorly permeable, lignite-rich, sulfate-reducing zones with decreased iron concentration is varied within the principal aquifer and accounts for the observed distribution of dissolved sulfate, iron, and iron sulfides in the aquifer. Locating such zones for the placement of production wells would be difficult, however, because these zones are of limited aerial extent.
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Localized sulfate-reducing zones in a coastal plain aquifer