An in situ experiment was performed in a shallow alluvial aquifer in Maryland to quantify the fractionation of stable isotopes in perchlorate (Cl and O) and nitrate (N and O) during biodegradation. An emulsified soybean oil substrate that was previously injected into this aquifer provided the electron donor necessary for biological perchlorate reduction and denitrification. During the field experiment, groundwater extracted from an upgradient well was pumped into an injection well located within the in situ oil barrier, and then groundwater samples were withdrawn for the next 30 h. After correction for dilution (using Br– as a conservative tracer of the injectate), perchlorate concentrations decreased by 78% and nitrate concentrations decreased by 82% during the initial 8.6 h after the injection. The observed ratio of fractionation effects of O and Cl isotopes in perchlorate (e18O/e37Cl) was 2.6, which is similar to that observed in the laboratory using pure cultures (2.5). Denitrification by indigenous bacteria fractionated O and N isotopes in nitrate at a ratio of ~0.8 (e18O/e15N), which is within the range of values reported previously for denitrification. However, the magnitudes of the individual apparent in situ isotope fractionation effects for perchlorate and nitrate were appreciably smaller than those reported in homogeneous closed systems (0.2 to 0.6 times), even after adjustment for dilution. These results indicate that (1) isotope fractionation factor ratios (e18O/e37Cl, e18O/e15N) derived from homogeneous laboratory systems (e.g. pure culture studies) can be used qualitatively to confirm the occurrence of in situ biodegradation of both perchlorate and nitrate, but (2) the magnitudes of the individual apparent e values cannot be used quantitatively to estimate the in situ extent of biodegradation of either anion.
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Fractionation of stable isotopes in perchlorate and nitrate during in situ biodegradation in a sandy aquifer