Streams impacted by acid mine drainage (AMD, also known as acid rock drainage) represent local environmental and ecological disasters; however, they may also present an opportunity to study microbial communities in environments analogous to past conditions. Neoarchean continents had streams and rivers replete with detrital pyrites. Following the emergence of oxygenic photosynthesis, Cyanobacteria colonized streams and rivers on continental surfaces. The combination of labile detrital pyrite grains and locally produced O2 generated by Cyanobacteria produced ideal conditions for pyrite oxidation similar to that found at modern AMD-impacted sites. To explore the connection of modern sites to ancient conditions, we sampled sites that exhibited a range of AMD-impact (e.g., pH from 2.1 to 7.9 [Fe2+] up to 5.2 mmol/L [SO4 2−] from 0.3 to 52.4 mmol/L) and found (i) nearly all analytes correlated to sulfate concentration; (ii) all sites exhibited the predominance of a single taxon most closely related to Ferrovum myxofaciens, an Fe-oxidixing betaproteoabacterium capable of carbon and nitrogen fixation, and (iii) signs of potential inorganic carbon limitation and nitrogen cycling. From these findings and building on the work of others, we present a conceptual model of continental surfaces during the Neoarchean and Paleoproterozoic linking local O2 production to pyrite oxidation on continental surfaces to sulfate production and delivery to nearshore environments. The delivery of sulfate drives sulfate reduction and euxinia—favoring anoxygenic photosynthesis over cyanobacterial O2 generation in near-continent/shelf marine environments.
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- Great Oxidation Event
- acid mine drainage
- pyrite weathering