Field and laboratory techniques were used to identify the biogeochemical factors affecting sulfate reduction in a shallow, unconsolidated alluvial aquifer contaminated with landfill leachate. Depth profiles of 35S-sulfate reduction rates in aquifer sediments were positively correlated with the concentration of dissolved sulfate. Manipulation of the sulfate concentration in samples revealed a Michaelis-Menten-like relationship with an apparent Km and Vmax of approximately 80 and 0.83 ??M SO4-2??day-1, respectively. The concentration of sulfate in the core of the leachate plume was well below 20 ??M and coincided with very low reduction rates. Thus, the concentration and availability of this anion could limit in situ sulfate-reducing activity. Three sulfate sources were identified, including iron sulfide oxidation, barite dissolution, and advective flux of sulfate. The relative importance of these sources varied with depth in the alluvium. The relatively high concentration of dissolved sulfate at the water table is attributed to the microbial oxidation of iron sulfides in response to fluctuations of the water table. At intermediate depths, barite dissolves in undersaturated pore water containing relatively high concentrations of dissolved barium (???100 ??M) and low concentrations of sulfate. Dissolution is consistent with the surface texture of detrital barite grains in contact with leachate. Laboratory incubations of unamended and barite-amended aquifer slurries supported the field observation of increasing concentrations of barium in solution when sulfate reached low levels. At a deeper highly permeable interval just above the confining bottom layer of the aquifer, sulfate reduction rates were markedly higher than rates at intermediate depths. Sulfate is supplied to this deeper zone by advection of uncontaminated groundwater beneath the landfill. The measured rates of sulfate reduction in the aquifer also correlated with the abundance of accumulated iron sulfide in this zone. This suggests that the current and past distributions of sulfate-reducing activity are similar and that the supply of sulfate has been sustained at these sites.
Additional publication details
Sources of sulfate supporting anaerobic metabolism in a contaminated aquifer