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Hydrogen Concentrations As An Indicator Of The Predominant Terminal Electron-accepting Reactions In Aquatic Sediments

D. Lovley, S. Goodwin
Published 1988 · Chemistry

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Abstract Factors controlling the concentration of dissolved hydrogen gas in anaerobic sedimentary environments were investigated. Results, presented here or previously, demonstrated that, in sediments, only microorganisms catalyze the oxidation of H 2 coupled to the reduction of nitrate, Mn(IV), Fe(III), sulfate, or carbon dioxide. Theoretical considerations suggested that, at steady-state conditions, H 2 concentrations are primarily dependent upon the physiological characteristics of the microorganism(s) consuming the H 2 and that organisms catalyzing H 2 oxidation, with the reduction of a more electrochemically positive electron acceptor, can maintain lower H 2 concentrations than organisms using electron acceptors which yield less energy from H 2 oxidation. The H 2 concentrations associated with the specified predominant terminal electron-accepting reactions in bottom sediments of a variety of surface water environments were: methanogenesis, 7–10 nM; sulfate reduction, 1–1.5 nM; Fe(III) reduction, 0.2 nM; Mn(IV) or nitrate reduction, less than 0.05 nM. Sediments with the same terminal electron acceptor for organic matter oxidation had comparable H 2 concentrations, despite variations in the rate of organic matter decomposition, pH, and salinity. Thus, each terminal electron-accepting reaction had a unique range of steady-state H 2 concentrations associated with it. Preliminary studies in a coastal plain aquifer indicated that H 2 concentrations also vary in response to changes in the predominant terminal electron-accepting process in deep subsurface environments. These studies suggest that H 2 measurements may aid in determining which terminal electron-accepting reactions are taking place in surface and subsurface sedimentary environments.
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