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Denitrification potential in stream sediments impacted by acid mine drainage: Effects of pH, various electron donors, and iron

January 1, 2006

Acid mine drainage (AMD) contaminates thousands of kilometers of stream in the western United States. At the same time, nitrogen loading to many mountain watersheds is increasing because of atmospheric deposition of nitrate and increased human use. Relatively little is known about nitrogen cycling in acidic, heavy-metal-laden streams; however, it has been reported that one key process, denitrification, is inhibited under low pH conditions. The objective of this research was to investigate the capacity for denitrification in acidified streams. Denitrification potential was assessed in sediments from several Colorado AMD-impacted streams, ranging from pH 2.60 to 4.54, using microcosm incubations with fresh sediment. Added nitrate was immediately reduced to nitrogen gas without a lag period, indicating that denitrification enzymes were expressed and functional in these systems. First-order denitrification potential rate constants varied from 0.046 to 2.964 day−1. The pH of the microcosm water increased between 0.23 and 1.49 pH units during denitrification. Additional microcosm studies were conducted to examine the effects of initial pH, various electron donors, and iron (added as ferrous and ferric iron). Decreasing initial pH decreased denitrification; however, increasing pH had little effect on denitrification rates. The addition of ferric and ferrous iron decreased observed denitrification potential rate constants. The addition of glucose and natural organic matter stimulated denitrification potential. The addition of hydrogen had little effect, however, and denitrification activity in the microcosms decreased after acetate addition. These results suggest that denitrification can occur in AMD streams, and if stimulated within the environment, denitrification might reduce acidity.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2006
Title Denitrification potential in stream sediments impacted by acid mine drainage: Effects of pH, various electron donors, and iron
DOI 10.1007/s00248-005-5155-z
Authors J.L. Baeseman, R. L. Smith, J. Silverstein
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Microbial Ecology
Series Number
Index ID 70030838
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Toxic Substances Hydrology Program