The formation of acid waters by oxidation of pyrite-bearing ore deposits, mine tailing piles, and coal measures is a complex biogeochemical process and is a serious environmental problem. We have studied the oxygen and sulphur isotope geochemistry of sulphides, sulphur, sulphate and water in the field and in experiments to identify sources of oxygen and reaction mechanisms of sulphate formation. Here we report that the oxygen isotope composition of sulphate in acid mine drainage shows a large variation due to differing proportions of atmospheric- and water-derived oxygen from both chemical and bacterially-mediated oxidation. 18O-enrichment of sulphate results from pyrite oxidation facilitated by Thiobacillus ferrooxidans in aerated environments. Oxygen isotope analysis may therefore be useful in monitoring the effectiveness of abatement programmes designed to inhibit bacterial oxidation. Sulphur isotopes show no significant fractionation between pyrite and sulphate, indicating the quantitative insignificance of intermediate oxidation states of sulphur under acid conditions.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $3.90 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Nordstrom, D. K. in Acid Sulfate Weathering, 37–56 (Soil Science Society of America, Madison, 1982).
Garrels, R. M. & Thompson, M. E. Am. J. Sci. 258, 57–67 (1960).
Singer, P. C. & Stumm, W., Second Symp. Coal Mine Drainage Res., 12–34 (Mellon Inst., Pittsburgh, 1968).
Singer, P. C. & Stumm, W. Science 167, 1121–1123 (1970).
Ehrlich, H. L. Geomicrobiology, (Dekker, New York, 1981).
Lacy, D. T. & Lawson, F. Biotech. Bioengng. 12, 29–50 (1970).
Nordstrom, D. K. thesis, Stanford Univ., Calif. (1977).
Tuovinen, O. H. & Kelly, D. P. Z. allg. Mikrobiol. 12, 311–346 (1972).
Bennett, J. C. & Tributsch, H. J. Bact. 134, 310–317 (1978).
Kroopnick, P. & Craig, H. Science 175, 54–55 (1972).
Hoering, T. C. & Kennedy, J. W. J. Am. chem. Soc. 79, 56–60 (1967).
Lloyd, R. M. J. geophys. Res. 73, 6099–6110 (1968).
Nehring, N. L., Bowen, P. A. & Truesdell, A. H. Geothermics 5, 63–66 (1977).
Friedman, I. & O'Neil, J. R. U.S. Geol. Survey Prof. Pap. 440-KK (1977).
Coleman, M. L. & Moore, M. P. Analyt. Chem. 50, 1594–1595 (1978).
Kaplan, I. R. & Rittenburg, S. C. J. gen. Microbiol. 34, 195–212 (1964).
Kaplan, I. R. & Rafter, T. A. Science 127, 517–518 (1958).
Nakai, N. & Jensen, M. L. Geochim. cosmochim. Acta 28, 1893–1912 (1964).
Field, C. W. Econ. Geol. 61, 1428–1435 (1966).
Schoen, R. & Rye, R. O. Science 170, 1082–1084 (1970).
Goldhaber, M. B. Am. J. Sci. 283, 193–217 (1983).
Schwarcz, H. P. & Cortecci, G., Chem. Geol. 13, 285k–294k (1974).
About this article
Cite this article
Taylor, B., Wheeler, M. & Nordstrom, D. Isotope composition of sulphate in acid mine drainage as measure of bacterial oxidation. Nature 308, 538–541 (1984). https://doi.org/10.1038/308538a0
Sources and mixing of sulfate contamination in the water environment of a typical coal mining city, China: evidence from stable isotope characteristics
Environmental Geochemistry and Health (2020)
Carbon-13 in groundwater from English and Norwegian crystalline rock aquifers: a tool for deducing the origin of alkalinity?
Sustainable Water Resources Management (2019)
Sulfur isotope fractionation and sequential extraction to assess metal contamination on lake and river sediments
Journal of Soils and Sediments (2016)
Archives of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology (2016)
Assessing the impact of Serwis mine tailings site on farmers’ wells using element and isotope signatures (Holy Cross Mountains, south-central Poland)
Environmental Earth Sciences (2015)