• We investigate pollutants and nutrients in the environment.

  • We elucidate processes and mechanisms in the field and laboratory.

  • We explore biochemical reactions that shape the environment.

  • We study DNA preservation in rocks to investigate environmental biomes.

  • We explore the nanoscale to understand processes of global relevance.

  • We use models to quantify processes and mechanisms.

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Latest publications

Internal tree cycling and atmospheric archiving of mercury: examination with concentration and stable isotope analyses

Trees predominantly take up mercury (Hg) from the atmosphere via stomatal assimilation of gaseous elemental Hg (GEM). Hg is oxidised in leaves/needles and transported to other tree anatomy including bole wood, where it can be stored long-term. Using Hg associated with growth rings facilitates archiving of historical GEM concentrations. Nonetheless, there are significant knowledge gaps on the cycling of Hg within trees. We investigate Hg archived in tree rings, internal tree Hg cycling, and differences in Hg uptake mechanisms in Norway spruce and European larch sampled within 1 km of a HgCl2-contaminated site using total Hg (THg) and Hg stable isotope analyses. Tree ring samples are indicative of significant increases in THg concentrations (up to 521 µg kg−1) from the background period (BGP; facility closed; 1992–present) to secondary industrial period (2ndIP; no HgCl2 wood treatment; 1962–1992) to primary industrial period (1stIP; active HgCl2 wood treatment; ≈ 1900–1962). Mass-dependent fractionation (MDF) Hg stable isotope data are shifted negative during industrial periods (δ202Hg of 1stIP: −4.32 ± 0.15 ‰, 2ndIP: −4.04 ± 0.32 ‰, BGP: −2.83 ± 0.74 ‰; 1 SD). Even accounting for a ≈ −2.6 ‰ MDF shift associated with stomatal uptake, these data are indicative of emissions derived from industrial activity being enriched in lighter isotopes associated with HgCl2 reduction and Hg0 volatilisation. Similar MDF (δ202Hg: −3.90 ± 0.30 ‰; 1 SD) in bark Hg (137 ± 105 µg kg−1) suggests that stomatal assimilation and downward transport is also the dominant uptake mechanism for bark Hg (reflective of negative stomatal-uptake MDF shift) rather than deposition to bark. THg was enriched in sapwood of all sampled trees across both tree species. This may indicate long-term storage of a fraction of Hg in sapwood or xylem solution. We also observed a small range of odd-isotope mass-independent fractionation (MIF). Differences in Δ199Hg between periods of different industrial activities were significant (Δ199Hg of 1stIP: 0.00 ± 0.03 ‰, 2ndIP: −0.06 ± 0.04 ‰, BGP: −0.13 ± 0.03 ‰; 1 SD), and we suggest MIF signatures are conserved during stomatal assimilation (reflect source MIF signatures). These data advance our understanding of the physiological processing of Hg within trees and provide critical direction to future research into the use of trees as archives for historical atmospheric Hg.

David S. McLagan, Harald Biester, Tomas Navrátil, Stephan M. Kraemer, Lorenz Schwab
2022 - Biogeosciences, 19: 4415-4429

Environmental Biodegradation of Water-Soluble Polymers: Key Considerations and Ways Forward

Water-soluble polymers (WSPs) have unique properties that are valuable in diverse applications ranging from home and personal care products to agricultural formulations. For applications that result in the release of WSPs into natural environments or engineered systems, such as agricultural soils and wastewater streams, biodegradable as opposed to nonbiodegradable WSPs have the advantage of breaking down and, thereby, eliminating the risk of persistence and accumulation. In this Commentary, we emphasize central steps in WSP biodegradation, discuss how these steps depend on both WSP properties and characteristics of the receiving environment, and highlight critical requirements for testing WSP biodegradability.

Michael Zumstein, Glauco Battagliarin, Andreas Kuenkel, Michael Sander
2022 - Accounts of Chemical Research, 55: 2163–2167

Mercury Removal from Contaminated Water by Wood-Based Biochar Depends on Natural Organic Matter and Ionic Composition

Biochars can remove potentially toxic elements, such as inorganic mercury [Hg(II)] from contaminated waters. However, their performance in complex water matrices is rarely investigated, and the combined roles of natural organic matter (NOM) and ionic composition in the removal of Hg(II) by biochar remain unclear. Here, we investigate the influence of NOM and major ions such as chloride (Cl-), nitrate (NO3-), calcium (Ca2+), and sodium (Na+) on Hg(II) removal by a wood-based biochar (SWP700). Multiple sorption sites containing sulfur (S) were located within the porous SWP700. In the absence of NOM, Hg(II) removal was driven by these sites. Ca2+ bridging was important in enhancing removal of negatively charged Hg(II)-chloro complexes. In the presence of NOM, formation of soluble Hg-NOM complexes (as seen from speciation calculations), which have limited access to biochar pores, suppressed Hg(II) removal, but Cl- and Ca2+ could still facilitate it. The ability of Ca2+ to aggregate NOM, including Hg-NOM complexes, promoted Hg(II) removal from the dissolved fraction (<0.45 μm). Hg(II) removal in the presence of Cl- followed a stepwise mechanism. Weakly bound oxygen functional groups in NOM were outcompeted by Cl-, forming smaller-sized Hg(II)-chloro complexes, which could access additional intraparticle sorption sites. Therein, Cl- was outcompeted by S, which finally immobilized Hg(II) in SWP700 as confirmed by extended X-ray absorption fine structure spectroscopy. We conclude that in NOM containing oxic waters, with relatively high molar ratios of Cl-: NOM and Ca2+: NOM, Hg(II) removal can still be effective with SWP700.

Sampriti Chaudhuri, Gabriel Sigmund, Sharon E. Bone, Naresh Kumar, Thilo Hofmann
2022 - Environ. Sci. Technol., 56: 11354–11362

Lecture series

EDGE Lecture: Tracking complex mixtures in the environment and wildlife with in vitro bioassays

Prof. Beate Escher
Helmholtz Zentrum für Umweltforschung, Germany
16.11.2022
16:30 h
Eberhard Clar Saal, UZA2

EDGE Lecture: Lead in archeological human bones/teeth reflecting historical changes in lead production

Prof. Yigal Erel
Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel
24.11.2022
16:45 h
2B201, UZA2

EDGE Lecture: Where microbes meet metals, minerals and magnetism

Dr. James M. Byrne
University of Bristol, UK
01.12.2022
16:45 h
2B201, UZA2