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Effects of thermal energy storage on shallow aerobic aquifer systems: temporary increase in abundance and activity of sulfate-reducing and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria

Abstract

Aquifer thermal energy storage may result in increases in the groundwater temperature up to 70 °C and more. This may lead to geochemical and microbiological alterations in the aquifer. To study the temperature effects on the indigenous microbial community composition, sediment column experiments at four different temperatures were carried out and the effluents were characterized geochemically and microbiologically. After an equilibrium phase at groundwater temperature of 10 °C for 136 days, one column was kept at 10 °C as a reference and the others were heated to 25, 40 and 70 °C. Genetic fingerprinting and quantitative PCR revealed a change in the bacterial community composition and abundance due to the temperature increase. While at 25 °C only slight changes in geochemical composition and gene copy numbers for bacteria were observed, increasing concentrations of total organic carbon in the 40 °C column were followed by a strong increase in bacterial abundance. Thermophilic bacteria became dominant at 70 °C. Temporary sulfate reduction took place at 40 and 70 °C and this correlated with an increased abundance of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB). Furthermore, a coexistence of SRB and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria (SOB) at all temperatures indicated an interaction of these physiological groups in the sediments. The results show that increased temperatures led to significant shifts in the microbial community composition due to the altered availability of electron donors and acceptors. The interplay of SRB and SOB in sedimentary biofilms facilitated closed sulfur cycling and diminished harmful sulfur species.

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Acknowledgements

The authors wish to thank the Federal Ministry of Education and Research for funding the “ANGUS+” (FKZ: 03EK3022D) project.

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Correspondence to Hilke Würdemann.

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This article is part of a Topical Collection in Environmental Earth Sciences on ‘Subsurface Energy Storage’, guest edited by Sebastian Bauer, Andreas Dahmke, and Olaf Kolditz.

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Lienen, T., Lüders, K., Halm, H. et al. Effects of thermal energy storage on shallow aerobic aquifer systems: temporary increase in abundance and activity of sulfate-reducing and sulfur-oxidizing bacteria. Environ Earth Sci 76, 261 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-017-6575-z

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s12665-017-6575-z

Keywords

  • Shallow aquifer thermal energy storage
  • Sediment column experiment
  • Temperature elevation
  • Microbial community composition shift
  • Sulfate-reducing bacteria
  • Sulfur-oxidizing bacteria