Main content area

Selenate reduction rates and kinetics across depth in littoral sediment of the Salton Sea, California

Schilling, Kathrin, VillaRomero, Juan Fernando, Pallud, Céline
Biogeochemistry 2018 v.140 no.3 pp. 285-298
bulk density, clay fraction, littoral zone, microorganisms, models, porosity, sediments, selenates, selenium, spatial distribution, California
To predict selenium cycling in sediments, it is crucial to identify and quantify the processes leading to selenium sequestration in sediments. More specifically, it is essential to obtain environmentally-relevant kinetic parameters for selenium reduction and information on how they spatially vary in sediments. The Salton Sea (California, USA) is an ideal model system to examine selenium processes in sediments due to its semi-enclosed conditions and increasing selenium concentration over the last century. Selenium enters the Salton Sea mainly as selenate and might be sequestered in the sediment through microbial reduction. To determine the potential selenium sequestration of Salton Sea littoral sediments and which sediment properties are controlling selenate reduction kinetics, we determined the centimeter-scale vertical distribution of potential selenate reduction rates and apparent kinetic parameters (maximum selenate reduction rates, Vₘₐₓ, and selenate half-saturation concentration, Kₘ) using flow-through reactor (FTR) experiments. We compared sediments from two littoral sites (South and North) and four depth intervals (0–2, 2–4, 4–6 and 6–8 cm). Furthermore, we characterized the selenium fractions in the sediment recovered from the FTR experiments to identify the processes leading to the sequestration of selenium. Our results reveal higher potential for selenium reduction and sequestration in the topmost sediment (0–2 cm) suggesting that microorganisms inhabiting surface sediment are well adapted to reduce selenate entering the Salton Sea. As apparent Kₘ values (103–2144 µM) exceed the average selenium concentration in the overlying water (6–25 nM), in situ selenate reduction is limited by the low availability of selenate and the resident selenate-reducing microorganisms operate well below their Vₘₐₓ (11 and 43 nmol cm⁻³ h⁻¹). Selenium speciation after FTR experiments confirms the primary sequestration of reduced biomass-associated and elemental selenium (68–99% of total selenium) in the sediment. Further, the absence of correlation between the tested sediment physical (porosity, bulk density, clay content), chemical (Cₒᵣg, Nₜₒₜ, total selenium content) and biological characteristics (abundance of culturable selenate-reducers) with the kinetic parameters of selenate reduction indicates that these sediment characteristics cannot be used as predictors of apparent Vₘₐₓ or Kₘ. Conclusively, microbial selenate reduction is an important, if not the primary process, leading to the sequestration of reduced selenium in the Salton Sea sediments and making the surficial Salton Sea sediments an important selenium sink.