Comparison of rates of ureolysis between Sporosarcina pasteurii and an indigenous groundwater community under conditions required to precipitate large volumes of calcite

Tobler, D. J. and Cuthbert, M. O. and Greswell, R. B. and Riley, M. S. and Renshaw, Joanna and Handley-Sidhu, S. and Phoenix, V. R. (2011) Comparison of rates of ureolysis between Sporosarcina pasteurii and an indigenous groundwater community under conditions required to precipitate large volumes of calcite. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 75 (11). pp. 3290-3301. ISSN 0016-7037

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Abstract

Ureolysis-driven calcite precipitation has potential to seal porosity and fracture networks in rocks thus preventing groundwater flow and contaminant transport. In this study urea hydrolysis and calcite precipitation rates for the model bacterium Sporosarcina pasteurii were compared with those of indigenous groundwater communities under conditions required to precipitate large volumes of calcite (up to 50gL-1). We conducted microcosm experiments in oxic artificial and anoxic natural groundwaters (collected from the Permo-Triassic sandstone aquifer at Birmingham, UK) that were inoculated with aerobically grown S. pasteurii. The rate constants for urea hydrolysis, kurea, ranged between 0.06 and 3.29d-1 and were only affected by inoculum density. Higher Ca2+ concentration (50-500mMCa2+) as well as differences in fO2 did not inhibit the ureolytic activity of S. pasteurii and did not significantly impact kurea. These results demonstrate that S. pasteurii has potential to improve calcite precipitation in both oxic and anoxic groundwaters, especially if indigenous communities lack ureolytic activity. Urea hydrolysis by indigenous groundwater communities was investigated in anoxic, natural groundwaters amended with urea and CaCl2. A notable increase in ureolysis rates was measured only when these communities were stimulated with dilute nutrients (with best results from blackstrap molasses). Furthermore, there was a considerable lag time (12-20days) before ureolysis and calcite precipitation began. Calculated ureolysis rate constants, kurea, ranged between 0.03 and 0.05d-1 and were similar to kurea values produced by S. pasteurii at low inoculum densities. Overall, this comparative study revealed that the growth of ureolytic microorganisms present within groundwaters can easily be stimulated to enhance rates of urea hydrolysis in the subsurface, and thus can be used to induce calcite precipitation in these environments. The time required for urea hydrolysis to begin is almost instantaneous if an inoculum of S. pasteurii is included, while it may take several weeks for ureolytic groundwater communities to grow and become ureolytically active.