Abstract

We have used geophysics, microbiology, and geochemistry to link large-scale (30+ m) geophysical self-potential (SP) responses at a groundwater contaminant plume with its chemistry and microbial ecology of groundwater and soil from in and around it. We have found that microbially mediated transformation of ammonia to nitrite, nitrate, and nitrogen gas was likely to have promoted a well-defined electrochemical gradient at the edge of the plume, which dominated the SP response. Phylogenetic analysis demonstrated that the plume fringe or anode of the geobattery was dominated by electrogens and biodegradative microorganisms including Proteobacteria alongside Geobacteraceae, Desulfobulbaceae, and Nitrosomonadaceae. The uncultivated candidate phylum OD1 dominated uncontaminated areas of the site. We defined the redox boundary at the plume edge using the calculated and observed electric SP geophysical measurements. Conductive soils and waste acted as an electronic conductor, which was dominated by abiotic iron cycling processes that sequester electrons generated at the plume fringe. We have suggested that such geoelectric phenomena can act as indicators of natural attenuation processes that control groundwater plumes. Further work is required to monitor electron transfer across the geoelectric dipole to fully define this phenomenon as a geobattery. This approach can be used as a novel way of monitoring microbial activity around the degradation of contaminated groundwater plumes or to monitor in situ bioelectric systems designed to manage groundwater plumes.

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