A model for microbially induced precipitation of vadose-zone calcites in fractures at Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA

  • Newman B
  • Campbell A
  • Norman D
 et al. 
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Fractures are unique environments that can concentrate the flow of water, nutrients, and contaminants. As such, fractures play an important role in controlling the flux of various substances into and through the vadose zone. Calcite fracture fillings are present in the near surface in the Bandelier Tuff Formation at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and provide a record of the geochemical and hydrologic processes that have occurred in fractures. The objective of this study was to examine calcite fracture fills in order to improve understanding of processes within fractures, and in particular those that lead to precipitation of calcite. Samples of calcite fillings were collected from vertical and horizontal fractures exposed in a shallow waste-burial pit. Scanning electron microscopy show morphologies which suggest that plants, fungi, and bacteria were important in the precipitation process. Quadrupole mass spectrometric analyses of fluid inclusion gases show predominantly methane (17-99%) and little to no oxygen (0-8%), suggesting the development of anaerobic conditions in the fractures. Ester-linked phospholipid biomarkers are evidence for a diverse microbial community in the fractures, and the presence of di-ether lipids indicate that the methane was generated by anaerobic bacteria. The calcite fillings apparently resulted from multiple biological and chemical processes in which plant roots in the fractures were converted to calcite. Roots grew into the fractures, eventually died, and were decomposed by bacteria and fungi. Anaerobic gases were generated from encapsulated organic material within the calcite via microbial decomposition, or were generated by microbes simultaneously with calcite precipitation. It is likely that the biological controls on calcite formation that occurred in the Los Alamos fractures also occurs in soils, and may explain the occurrence of other types of pedogenic calcites. Copyright © 1997 Elsevier Science Ltd.

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  • Brent D. Newman

  • Andrew R. Campbell

  • David I. Norman

  • David B. Ringelberg

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