• 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

Freshwater suspended particulate matter—Key components and processes in floc formation and dynamics

Freshwater suspended particulate matter (SPM) plays an important role in many biogeochemical cycles and serves multiple ecosystem functions. Most SPM is present as complex floc-like aggregate structures composed of various minerals and organic matter from the molecular to the organism level. Flocs provide habitat for microbes and feed for larger organisms. They constitute microbial bioreactors, with prominent roles in carbon and inorganic nutrient cycles, and transport nutrients as well as pollutants, affecting sediments, inundation zones, and the ocean. Composition, structure, size, and concentration of SPM flocs are subject to high spatiotemporal variability. Floc formation processes and compositional or morphological dynamics can be established around three functional components: phyllosilicates, iron oxides/(oxy)hydroxides (FeOx), and microbial extracellular polymeric substances (EPS). These components and their interactions increase heterogeneity in surface properties, enhancing flocculation. Phyllosilicates exhibit intrinsic heterogeneities in surface charge and hydrophobicity. They are preferential substrates for precipitation or attachment of reactive FeOx. FeOx form patchy coatings on minerals, especially on phyllosilicates, which increase surface charge heterogeneities. Both, phyllosilicates and FeOx strongly adsorb natural organic matter (NOM), preferentially certain EPS. EPS comprise various substances with heterogeneous properties that make them a sticky mixture, enhancing flocculation. Microbial metabolism, and thus EPS release, is supported by the high adsorption capacity and favorable nutrient composition of phyllosilicates, and FeOx supply essential Fe.

2022 - Water Research, 220: in press

Demystifying mercury geochemistry in contaminated soil–groundwater systems with complementary mercury stable isotope, concentration, and speciation analyses

Interpretation of mercury (Hg) geochemistry in environmental systems remains a challenge. This is largely associated with the inability to identify specific Hg transformation processes and species using established analytical methods in Hg geochemistry (total Hg and Hg speciation). In this study, we demonstrate the improved Hg geochemical interpretation, particularly related to process tracing, that can be achieved when Hg stable isotope analyses are complemented by a suite of more established methods and applied to both solid- (soil) and liquid-phases (groundwater) across two Hg2+-chloride (HgCl2) contaminated sites with distinct geological and physicochemical properties. This novel approach allowed us to identify processes such as Hg2+ (i.e., HgCl2) sorption to the solid-phase, Hg2+ speciation changes associated with changes in groundwater level and redox conditions (particularly in the upper aquifer and capillary fringe), Hg2+ reduction to Hg0, and dark abiotic redox equilibration between Hg0 and Hg(II). Hg stable isotope analyses play a critical role in our ability to distinguish, or trace, these in situ processes. While we caution against the non-critical use of Hg isotope data for source tracing in environmental systems, due to potentially variable source signatures and overprinting by transformation processes, our study demonstrates the benefits of combining multiple analytical approaches, including Hg isotope ratios as a process tracer, to obtain an improved picture of the enigmatic geochemical behavior and fate of Hg at contaminated legacy sites.

David S. McLagan, Lorenz Schwab, Jan G. Wiederhold, Lu Chen, Jan Pietrucha, Stephan M. Kraemer, Harald Biester
2022 - Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, Advance Article

Ligand-Induced U Mobilization from Chemogenic Uraninite and Biogenic Noncrystalline U(IV) under Anoxic Conditions

Microbial reduction of soluble hexavalent uranium (U(VI)) to sparingly soluble tetravalent uranium (U(IV)) has been explored as an in situ strategy to immobilize U. Organic ligands might pose a potential hindrance to the success of such remediation efforts. In the current study, a set of structurally diverse organic ligands were shown to enhance the dissolution of crystalline uraninite (UO2) for a wide range of ligand concentrations under anoxic conditions at pH 7.0. Comparisons were made to ligand-induced U mobilization from noncrystalline U(IV). For both U phases, aqueous U concentrations remained low in the absence of organic ligands (<25 nM for UO2; 300 nM for noncrystalline U(IV)). The tested organic ligands (2,6-pyridinedicarboxylic acid (DPA), desferrioxamine B (DFOB), N,N′-di(2-hydroxybenzyl)ethylene-diamine-N,N′-diacetic acid (HBED), and citrate) enhanced U mobilization to varying extents. Over 45 days, the ligands mobilized only up to 0.3% of the 370 μM UO2, while a much larger extent of the 300 μM of biomass-bound noncrystalline U(IV) was mobilized (up to 57%) within only 2 days (>500 times more U mobilization). This work shows the potential of numerous organic ligands present in the environment to mobilize both recalcitrant and labile U forms under anoxic conditions to hazardous levels and, in doing so, undermine the stability of immobilized U(IV) sources.

Kyle J. Chardi, Anshuman Satpathy, Walter D. C. Schenkeveld*, Naresh Kumar, Vincent Noël, Stephan M. Kraemer, and Daniel E. Giammar
2022 - Environmental Science and Technology, 56: 6369–6379