Field Evidence for Magnetite Formation by a Methanogenic Microbial Community
Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Poster Hall (Moscone South)
The aged, subsurface petroleum spill in Bemidji, Minnesota, has been surveyed with magnetic susceptibility (MS) measurements. High MS values were found in the free-product phase around the fluctuating water table. Although we had hypothesized that high MS values are related to the occurrence of the mineral magnetite resulting from the activity of iron-reducing bacteria, our microbial analysis pointed to the presence of a methanogenic microbial community at the locations and depths of the highest MS values. Here, we report on a more detailed microbial analysis based on high-throughput sequencing of the 16S rRNA gene of sediment samples from four consecutive years. In addition, we provide geochemical data (FeII/FeIII concentrations) to refine our conceptual model of methanogenic hydrocarbon degradation at aged petroleum spills and demonstrate that the microbial induced changes of sediment properties can be monitored with MS. The methanogenic microbial community at the Bemidji site consisted mainly of the syntrophic, hydrocarbon-degrading Smithella and the hydrogenotrophic, methane-generating Methanoregula. There is growing evidence in the literature that not only Bacteria, but also some methanogenic Archaea are able to reduce iron. In fact, a recent study reported that the methanogen Methanosarcina thermophila produced magnetite during the reduction of ferrihydrite in a laboratory experiment when hydrogen was present. Therefore, our finding of high MS values and the presence of magnetite in the methanogenic zone of an aged, subsurface petroleum spill could very well be the first field evidence for magnetite formation during methanogenic hydrocarbon degradation.