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Letters to Nature
Nature 291, 407 - 408 (04 June 1981); doi:10.1038/291407a0

Are high rates of sulphate reduction associated with anaerobic oxidation of methane?

Allan H. Devol* & Saiyed I. Ahmed

*Fisheries Research Institute, WH-10, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA
Department of Oceanography, WB-10, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington 98195, USA

Classical models of sulphur diagenesis in marine sediments are based on the assumption that the rate of sulphate reduction is first order with respect to oxidizable particulate organic carbon (POC). This assumption requires that oxidizable POC, sulphate concentration and the sulphate reduction rate be highest at the top of the sulphate reduction zone and decrease exponentially with increasing sediment depth1,2. However, to explain recent observations of concave upwards methane distributions, the anaerobic consumption of methane has been proposed. Furthermore, it has been proposed that this consumption takes place near the bottom of the sulphate reducing zone where sulphate concentrations are low3–6. Thus, if sulphate reducing bacteria are associated with the anaerobic oxidation of methane, a peak in sulphate reduction rate might be expected in this deep consumption zone7. The importance of the process in sedimentary sulphur diagenesis is indicated by calculations estimating that 30–75% of the downward sulphate flux at depth may be consumed by methane oxidation within this zone6,8,9. We present here profiles of sulphate reduction rate in anoxic sediments that show distinct local maxima at the depth where the anaerobic oxidation of methane would be expected. Our measurements were made during July and August 1978 in Saanich Inlet, an anoxic fjord located on the south-east side of Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The inlet has a shallow sill (~70 m) which restricts circulation of the deeper water (maximum depth 225 m) inside the basin to the extent that for about 8 months of the year the bottom waters contain no oxygen, nitrate or nitrite, and significant concentrations of free H2S are present10. As the deep waters contain hydrogen sulphide, the inlet is an ideal location for studying sedimentary sulphate reduction because reactions with oxygen and the effects of burrowing organisms can be neglected.

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