Significant role of organic sulfur in supporting sedimentary sulfate reduction in low-sulfate environments

Mojtaba Fakhraee, Jiying Li, Sergei Katsev

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations

Abstract

Dissimilatory sulfate reduction (DSR) is a major carbon mineralization pathway in aquatic sediments, soils, and groundwater, which regulates the production of hydrogen sulfide and the mobilization rates of biologically important elements such as phosphorus and mercury. It has been widely assumed that water-column sulfate is the main sulfur source to fuel this reaction in sediments. While this assumption may be justified in high-sulfate environments such as modern seawater, we argue that in low-sulfate environments mineralization of organic sulfur compounds can be an important source of sulfate. Using a reaction-transport model, we investigate the production of sulfate from sulfur-containing organic matter for a range of environments. The results show that in low sulfate environments (<500 μM) the in-sediment production of sulfate can support a substantial portion (>50%) of sulfate reduction. In well-oxygenated systems, porewater sulfate profiles often exhibit sub-interface peaks so that sulfate fluxes are directed out of the sediment. Our measurements in Lake Superior, the world's largest lake, corroborate this conclusion: offshore sediments act as sources rather than sinks of sulfate for the water column, and sediment DSR is supported entirely by the in-sediment production of sulfate. Sulfate reduction rates are correlated to the depth of oxygen penetration and strongly regulated by the supply of reactive organic matter; rate co-regulation by sulfate availability becomes appreciable below 500 μM level. The results indicate the need to consider the mineralization of organic sulfur in the biogeochemical cycling in low-sulfate environments, including several of the world's largest freshwater bodies, deep subsurface, and possibly the sulfate-poor oceans of the Early Earth.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)502-516
Number of pages15
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
Volume213
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 15 2017

Keywords

  • Freshwater sediments
  • Lake Superior
  • Organic sulfur
  • Reactive transport modeling
  • Sulfate reduction

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