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Stable isotope geochemistry of acid mine drainage: Experimental oxidation of pyrite

January 1, 1984

Sulfate and water from experiments in which pyrite was oxidized at a pH of 2.0 were analyzed for sulfur and oxygen stable isotopes. Experiments were conducted under both aerobic and anaerobic sterile conditions, as well as under aerobic conditions in the presence of Thiobacillus ferrooxidans, to elucidate the pathways of oxidation. Oxygen isotope fractionation between SO2-4 and H2O varied from +4.0 %. (anaerobic, sterile) to + 18.0 %. (aerobic, with T. ferrooxidans.). The oxygen isotope composition of dissolved oxygen utilized in both chemical and microbially-mediated oxidation was also determined (+11.4 %., by T. ferrooxidans; +18.4 %., chemical). Contributions of water-derived oxygen and dissolved oxygen to the sulfate produced in the oxidation of pyrite could thus be estimated. Water-derived oxygen constituted from 23 to ~ 100 percent of the oxygen in the sulfate produced in the experiments, and this closely approximates the range of contribution in natural acid mine drainage. Oxidation of sulfides in anaerobic, water-saturated environments occurs primarily by chemical oxidation pathways, whereas oxidation of sulfides in well-aerated, unsaturated zone environments occurs dominantly by microbially mediated pathways.

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