Microbes are everywhere, but when they are in mined soils, they react with the mineral pyrite to speed up acidification of mine run-off water. Scientists have been trying to understand the chemistry behind this process that eventually leads to widespread acidification of water bodies and deposition of heavy metals. What a new study has found seems to defy the laws of chemistry: microbes react with the pyrite surface, coating it with chemicals that would be expected to hinder further reactions. Despite the formation of such coatings, however, microbe-mediated reactions occur tens of thousands of times faster than when no microbes are present.
Thats a puzzle, said Alfred Spormann, a co-principal investigator on the study. This changed surface chemistry should slow down the microbial oxidation but it doesnt.
The collaborative study was led by co-principal investigators Scott Fendorf, Gordon Brown and Spormann at Stanford. Dartmouth Assistant Professor Benjamin Bostick, Fendorfs former doctoral student who coordinated the research effort, will present the groups findings Thursday, Dec. 11 at this years San Francisco meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU). The AGU is an international scientific society with more than 35,000 members dedicated to advancing the understanding of Earth and its environment.
Czerne M. Reid | EurekAlert!
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