MICROBIAL activity in aquifers plays an important part in the chemical evolution of ground water1-5. The most important terminal electron-accepting microbial processes in deeply buried anaerobic aquifers are iron reduction, sulphate reduction and methanogenesis5-8, each of which requires simple organic compounds or hydrogen (H2) as electron donors. Until now, the source of these compounds was unknown because the concentrations of dissolved organic carbon and sedimentary organic carbon in aquifers are extremely low9-11. Here we show that rates of microbial fermentation exceed rates of respiration in organic-rich aquitards (low-permeability sediments stratigraphically adjacent to higher-permeability aquifer sediments), resulting in a net accumulation of simple organic acids in pore waters. In aquifers, however, respiration outpaces fermentation, resulting in a net consumption of organic acids. The concentration gradient that develops in response to these two processes drives a net diffusive flux of organic acids from aquitards to aquifers. Diffusion calculations demonstrate that rates of organic acid transport are sufficient to account for observed rates of microbial respiration in aquifers. This overall process effectively links the large pool of sedimentary organic carbon in aquitards to microbial respiration in aquifers, and is a principal mechanism driving groundwater chemistry changes in aquifers.
Additional publication details
Microbial production of organic acids in aquitard sediments and its role in aquifer geochemistry