Fate of Uranium in Wetlands: Impact of Drought Followed by Re-flooding
Monday, 15 December 2014: 12:00 PM
Uranium contamination in groundwater can be mitigated in anoxic zones by iron-reducing bacteria that reduce soluble U(VI) to insoluble U(IV) and by uranium immobilization through complexation and sorption. Wetlands often link ground and surface-waters, making them strategic systems for potentially limiting migration of uranium contamination. Little is known about how drought periods that result in the drying of wetland soils, and consequent redox changes, affect uranium fate and transport in wetlands. In order to better understand the fate and stability of immobilized uranium in wetland soils, and how dry periods affect the uranium stability, we dosed saturated wetland mesocosms planted with Scirpus acutus with low levels of uranyl-acetate for 5 months before imposing a 9-day drying period followed by a 13-day rewetting period. Concentrations of uranium in mesocosm effluent increased after rewetting, but the cumulative amount of uranium released in the 13 days following the drying constituted less than 1% of the uranium immobilized in the soil during the 5 months prior to the drought. This low level of remobilization suggests that the uranium immobilized in these soils was not primarily bioreduced U(IV), which could have been oxidized to soluble U(VI) during the drought and released in the effluent during the subsequent flood. XANES analyses confirm that most of the uranium immobilized in the mesocosms was U(VI) sorbed to iron oxides. Compared to mesocosms that did not experience drying or rewetting, mesocosms that were sacrificed immediately after drying and after 13 days of rewetting had less uranium in soil near roots and more uranium on root surfaces. Metal-reducing bacteria only dominated the bacterial community after 13 days of rewetting and not immediately after drying, indicating that these bacteria are not responsible for this redistribution of uranium after the drying and rewetting. Results show that short periods of drought conditions in a wetland may impact uranium distribution, but these conditions may not cause large losses of immobilized uranium from the wetland.