Abstract

There is growing interest in the development of new monitoring strategies for obtaining spatially extensive data diagnostic of microbial processes occurring in the earth. Open-circuit potentials arising from variable redox conditions in the fluid local-to-electrode surfaces (electrodic potentials) were recorded for a pair of silver-silver chloride electrodes in a column experiment, whereby a natural wetland soil containing a known community of sulfate reducers was continuously fed with a sulfate-rich nutrient medium. Measurements were made between five electrodes equally spaced along the column and a reference electrode placed on the column inflow. The presence of a sulfate reducing microbial population, coupled with observations of decreasing sulfate levels, formation of black precipitate (likely iron sulfide),elevated solid phase sulfide, and a characteristic sulfurous smell, suggest microbial-driven sulfate reduction (sulfide generation) in our column. Based on the known sensitivity of a silver electrode to dissolved sulfide concentration, we interpret the electrodic potentials approaching 700mV recorded in this experiment as an indicator of the bisulfide (HS) concentration gradients in the column. The measurement of the spatial and temporal variation in these electrodic potentials provides a simple and rapid method for monitoring patterns of relative HS concentration that are indicative of the activity of sulfate-reducing bacteria. Our measurements have implications both for the autonomous monitoring of anaerobic microbial processes in the subsurface and the performance of self-potential electrodes, where it is critical to isolate, and perhaps quantify, electrochemical interfaces contributing to observed potentials.

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