Review of Geophysics, vol. 33, issue 3 (1995) pp. 365-381
Information on the microbiology of the deep subsurface is necessary in order to understand the factors controlling the rate and extent of the microbially catalyzed redox reactions that influence the geophysical properties of these environments. Furthermore, there is an increasing threat that deep aquifers, an important drinking water resource, may be contaminated by man's activities, and there is a need to predict the extent to which microbial activity may remediate such contamination. Metabolically active microorganisms can be recovered from a diversity of deep subsurface environments. The available evidence suggests that these microorganisms are responsible for catalyzing the oxidation of organic matter coupled to a variety of electron acceptors just as microorganisms do in surface sediments, but at much slower rates. The technical difficulties in aseptically sampling deep subsurface sediments and the fact that microbial processes in laboratory incubations of deep subsurface material often do not mimic in situ processes frequently necessitate that microbial activity in the deep subsurface be inferred through nonmicrobiological analyses of ground water. These approaches include measurements of dissolved H2, which can predict the predominant microbially catalyzed redox reactions in aquifers, as well as geochemical and groundwater flow modeling, which can be used to estimate the rates of microbial processes. Microorganisms recovered from the deep subsurface have the potential to affect the fate of toxic organics and inorganic contaminants in groundwater. Microbial activity also greatly influences the chemistry of many pristine groundwaters and contributes to such phenomena as porosity development in carbonate aquifers, accumulation of undesirably high concentrations of dissolved iron, and production of methane and hydrogen sulfide. Although the last decade has seen a dramatic increase in interest in deep subsurface microbiology, in comparison with the study of other habitats, the study of deep subsurface microbiology is still in its infancy.
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