Whitmire, S. L. and S. K. Hamilton. 2005. Rapid removal of nitrate and sulfate by freshwater wetland sediments. Journal of Environmental Quality 34:2062-2071.
Anaerobic microbial processes play particularly important roles in the biogeochemical functions of wetlands, affecting water quality, nutrient transport, and greenhouse gas fluxes. This study simultaneously examined nitrate and sulfate removal rates in sediments of five southwestern Michigan wetlands varying in their predominant water sources from ground water to precipitation. Rates were estimated using in situ push-pull experiments, in which 500 mL of anoxic local ground water containing ambient nitrate and sulfate and amended with bromide was injected into the near-surface sediments and subsequently withdrawn over time. All wetlands rapidly depleted nitrate added at ambient ground water concentrations within 5 to 20 h, with the rate dependent on concentration. Sulfate, which was variably present in porewaters, was also removed from injected ground water in all wetlands, but only after nitrate was depleted. The sulfate removal rate in ground water-fed wetlands was independent of concentration, in contrast to rates in precipitation-fed wetlands. Sulfate production was observed in some sites during the period of nitrate removal, suggesting that the added nitrate either stimulated sulfur oxidation, possibly by bacteria that can utilize nitrate as an oxidant, or inhibited sulfate reduction by stimulating denitrification. All wetland sediments examined were consistently capable of removing nitrate and sulfate at concentrations found in ground water and precipitation inputs, over short time and space scales. These results demonstrate how a remarkably small area of wetland sediment can strongly influence water quality, such as in the cases of narrow riparian zones or small isolated wetlands, which may be excluded from legal protection.
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