Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Biogeochemical transformation of Fe minerals in a petroleum-contaminated aquifer

April 15, 2004

The Bemidji aquifer in Minnesota, USA is a well-studied site of subsurface petroleum contamination. The site contains an anoxic groundwater plume where soluble petroleum constituents serve as an energy source for a region of methanogenesis near the source and bacterial Fe(III) reduction further down gradient. Methanogenesis apparently begins when bioavailable Fe(III) is exhausted within the sediment. Past studies indicate that Geobacter species and Geothrix fermentens-like organisms are the primary dissimilatory Fe-reducing bacteria at this site. The Fe mineralogy of the pristine aquifer sediments and samples from the methanogenic (source) and Fe(III) reducing zones were characterized in this study to identify microbiologic changes to Fe valence and mineral distribution, and to identify whether new biogenic mineral phases had formed. Methods applied included X-ray diffraction; X-ray fluorescence (XRF); and chemical extraction; optical, transmission, and scanning electron microscopy; and Mössbauer spectroscopy.

All of the sediments were low in total Fe content (≈ 1%) and exhibited complex Fe-mineralogy. The bulk pristine sediment and its sand, silt, and clay-sized fractions were studied in detail. The pristine sediments contained Fe(II) and Fe(III) mineral phases. Ferrous iron represented approximately 50% of FeTOT. The relative Fe(II) concentration increased in the sand fraction, and its primary mineralogic residence was clinochlore with minor concentrations found as a ferroan calcite grain cement in carbonate lithic fragments. Fe(III) existed in silicates (epidote, clinochlore, muscovite) and Fe(III) oxides of detrital and authigenic origin. The detrital Fe(III) oxides included hematite and goethite in the form of mm-sized nodular concretions and smaller-sized dispersed crystallites, and euhedral magnetite grains. Authigenic Fe(III) oxides increased in concentration with decreasing particle size through the silt and clay fraction. Chemical extraction and Mössbauer analysis indicated that this was a ferrihydrite like-phase. Quantitative mineralogic and Fe(II/III) ratio comparisons between the pristine and contaminated sediments were not possible because of textural differences. However, comparisons between the texturally-similar source (where bioavailable Fe(III) had been exhausted) and Fe(III) reducing zone sediments (where bioavailable Fe(III) remained) indicated that dispersed detrital, crystalline Fe(III) oxides and a portion of the authigenic, poorly crystalline Fe(III) oxide fraction had been depleted from the source zone sediment by microbiologic activity. Little or no effect of microbiologic activity was observed on silicate Fe(III). The presence of residual “ferrihydrite” in the most bioreduced, anoxic plume sediment (source) implied that a portion of the authigenic Fe(III) oxides were biologically inaccessible in weathered, lithic fragment interiors. Little evidence was found for the modern biogenesis of authigenic ferrous-containing mineral phases, perhaps with the exception of thin siderite or ferroan calcite surface precipitates on carbonate lithic fragments within source zone sediments.

Publication Year 2004
Title Biogeochemical transformation of Fe minerals in a petroleum-contaminated aquifer
DOI 10.1016/j.gca.2003.09.022
Authors John M. Zachara, Ravi K. Kukkadapu, Paul L. Glassman, Alice Dohnalkova, Jim K. Fredrickson, Todd Anderson
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Index ID 70184610
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program