Microbial Ecology

, Volume 51, Issue 2, pp 232–241 | Cite as

Denitrification Potential in Stream Sediments Impacted by Acid Mine Drainage: Effects of pH, Various Electron Donors, and Iron



Acid mine drainage (AMD) contaminates thousands of kilometers of stream in the western United States. At the same time, nitrogen loading to many mountain watersheds is increasing because of atmospheric deposition of nitrate and increased human use. Relatively little is known about nitrogen cycling in acidic, heavy-metal-laden streams; however, it has been reported that one key process, denitrification, is inhibited under low pH conditions. The objective of this research was to investigate the capacity for denitrification in acidified streams. Denitrification potential was assessed in sediments from several Colorado AMD-impacted streams, ranging from pH 2.60 to 4.54, using microcosm incubations with fresh sediment. Added nitrate was immediately reduced to nitrogen gas without a lag period, indicating that denitrification enzymes were expressed and functional in these systems. First-order denitrification potential rate constants varied from 0.046 to 2.964 day−1. The pH of the microcosm water increased between 0.23 and 1.49 pH units during denitrification. Additional microcosm studies were conducted to examine the effects of initial pH, various electron donors, and iron (added as ferrous and ferric iron). Decreasing initial pH decreased denitrification; however, increasing pH had little effect on denitrification rates. The addition of ferric and ferrous iron decreased observed denitrification potential rate constants. The addition of glucose and natural organic matter stimulated denitrification potential. The addition of hydrogen had little effect, however, and denitrification activity in the microcosms decreased after acetate addition. These results suggest that denitrification can occur in AMD streams, and if stimulated within the environment, denitrification might reduce acidity.



This project was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation BES-0221880 and the University of Colorado–Beverly Sears Graduate Research Grant. We thank C. Hart, D. Repert, B. McCleskey, K. Chowanski, P. Renton, A. McHugh, and N. Mladenov for sampling and analytical assistance, and B. Ward, K. Wickland, and three anonymous critics for manuscript reviews. The use of product or trade names in this report is for identification purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by the US Geological Survey.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • J. L. Baeseman
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • R. L. Smith
    • 1
  • J. Silverstein
    • 2
  1. 1.Water Resources DivisionU.S. Geological SurveyBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural EngineeringUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of GeosciencesPrinceton UniversityPrincetonUSA

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