, Volume 56, Issue 2, pp 237-243
Date: 18 Dec 2007

Precipitation of iron in microbial mats of the spring waters of Borra Caves, Vishakapatnam, India: some geomicrobiological aspects

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Abstract

The Borra caves, Vishakapatnam, India, can be described as a speleothem cave with significant amounts of unexplored microbial mats in spring waters. Here, we present the first observations and hypotheses on the possible impact of the microorganisms in these mats on the cave formation, focusing on their role on iron mineral precipitation. The spring waters (pH neutral 7.5–7.7) contained dissolved metals like iron and the organic mat sludge (pH 7.0–7.3) had a TOC content of approximately 5.4 wt%. Geochemically, the spring waters deep below the microbial mats contained Fe 369 ppb, Sr 198 ppb; and the organic mat sludge contained Mg 9 ppm, Fe 427 ppb, Zn 149 ppb, Sr 190 ppb. XRD observations displayed Fe minerals (dominantly hematite), minor amounts of zinc gallium sulfide and nitrofuryl compounds. At least four groups of bacteria identified by direct microscopy and SEM-EDX on the basis of morphology could be observed in all samples: Leptothrix-like organisms, entombed bacterial mineral sheaths, a few stalks of Gallionella-like organisms and some additional bacteria that could not be further identified. Leptothrix-like organisms contained 43.22–60.08 wt % Fe and the mineral precipitated near and around these bacteria (in the actual unaltered samples on site) contained 30.76–45.22 wt% Fe as identified and quantified by SEM-EDX. This study indicates that the precipitation of these iron-rich mats in the spring waters could be linked to the presence of abundant active communities of iron precipitating bacteria at Borra caves, Vishakapatanam.