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Environ Sci Technol. 2003 Sep 15;37(18):4138-47.

Biofilm hydrous manganese oxyhydroxides and metal dynamics in acid rock drainage.

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  • 1School of Geography and Geology, McMaster University, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada L8S 4K1.


Biofilms in shallow, tailings-associated acid rock drainage (ARD) accumulated metals from May to September, indicating scavenging is stable within these biological solids over seasonal time frames. Results indicate a doubling (Mn, Cr) to over a 6-fold increase (Ni, Co) in biofilm metal concentrations. Biofilm oxygen and pH gradients measured over diel time scales with microelectrodes were observed to be both spatially and temporally variable, indicating that biofilms are highly dynamic geochemical environments. Biofilm metal retention and affinities were element specific indicating different processes control their sequestration. Metals were specifically scavenged by the organic constituents of the biofilm itself (Ni, Co) and associated biominerals of amorphous Mn oxyhydroxides (HMO; Ni, Co, and Cr). Results are consistent with sorption and coprecipitation processes controlling Ni and Co biofilm association, while Cr dynamics appear linked to those of Mn through redox processes. Biofilm HMO concentrations increased seasonally but showed significant diel fluctuations, indicating that both formation and dissolution processes occurred over rapid time scales in these biofilms. Biofilm HMO concentrations increased nocturnally but decreased during daylight hours to late afternoon minima. Under the geochemical conditions of the streams, observed HMO formation rates can only be explained by microbial catalysis. These results are the first to quantitatively examine microbial biofilm metal dynamics using microscale, geochemical techniques at both diel and seasonal time scales. They provide strong evidence for the significant role that microbial activity can play in metal geochemistry in natural environments.

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