Hexadecane and pristane degradation potential at the level of the aquifer-evidence from sediment incubations compared to in situ microcosms.

Environmental science and pollution research international

PubMedID: 24522398

Schurig C, Miltner A, Kaestner M. Hexadecane and pristane degradation potential at the level of the aquifer-evidence from sediment incubations compared to in situ microcosms. Environ Sci Pollut Res Int. 2014;.
Monitored natural attenuation is widely accepted as a sustainable remediation method. However, methods providing proof of proceeding natural attenuation within the water-unsaturated (vadose) zone are still relying on proxies such as measurements of reactive and non-reactive gases, or sediment sampling and subsequent mineralisation assays, under artificial conditions in the laboratory. In particular, at field sites contaminated with hydrophobic compounds, e.g. crude oil spills, an in situ evaluation of natural attenuation is needed, because in situ methods are assumed to provide less bias than investigations applying either proxies for biodegradation or off-site microcosm experiments. In order to compare the current toolbox of methods with the recently developed in situ microcosms, incubations with direct push-sampled sediments from the vadose and the aquifer zones of a site contaminated with crude oil were carried out in conventional microcosms and in situ microcosms. The results demonstrate the applicability of the in situ microcosm approach also outside water-saturated aquifer conditions in the vadose zone. The sediment incubation experiments demonstrated turnover rates in a similar range (vadose, 4.7 mg/kg*day; aquifer, 6.4 mghexadecane/kgsoil/day) of hexadecane degradation in the vadose zone and the aquifer, although mediated by slightly different microbial communities according to the analysis of fatty acid patterns and amounts. Additional experiments had the task of evaluating the degradation potential for the branched-chain alkane pristane (2,6,10,14-tetramethylpentadecane). Although this compound is regarded to be hardly degradable in comparison to n-alkanes and is thus frequently used as a reference parameter for indexing the extent of biodegradation of crude oils, it could be shown to be degraded by means of the incubation experiments. Thus, the site had a high inherent potential for natural attenuation of crude oils both in the vadose zone and the aquifer.