A large column analog experiment of stable isotope variations during reactive transport: I. A comprehensive model of sulfur cycling and δ34S fractionation

Jennifer L. Druhan, Carl I. Steefel, Mark E. Conrad, Donald J. DePaolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study demonstrates a mechanistic incorporation of the stable isotopes of sulfur within the CrunchFlow reactive transport code to model the range of microbially-mediated redox processes affecting kinetic isotope fractionation. Previous numerical models of microbially mediated sulfate reduction using Monod-type rate expressions have lacked rigorous coupling of individual sulfur isotopologue rates, with the result that they cannot accurately simulate sulfur isotope fractionation over a wide range of substrate concentrations using a constant fractionation factor. Here, we derive a modified version of the dual-Monod or Michaelis-Menten formulation (Maggi and Riley, 2009, 2010) that successfully captures the behavior of the 32S and 34S isotopes over a broad range from high sulfate and organic carbon availability to substrate limitation using a constant fractionation factor. The new model developments are used to simulate a large-scale column study designed to replicate field scale conditions of an organic carbon (acetate) amended biostimulation experiment at the Old Rifle site in western Colorado. Results demonstrate an initial period of iron reduction that transitions to sulfate reduction, in agreement with field-scale behavior observed at the Old Rifle site. At the height of sulfate reduction, effluent sulfate concentrations decreased to 0.5mM from an influent value of 8.8mM over the 100cm flow path, and thus were enriched in sulfate δ34S from 6.3‰ to 39.5‰. The reactive transport model accurately reproduced the measured enrichment in δ34S of both the reactant (sulfate) and product (sulfide) species of the reduction reaction using a single fractionation factor of 0.987 obtained independently from field-scale measurements. The model also accurately simulated the accumulation and δ34S signature of solid phase elemental sulfur over the duration of the experiment, providing a new tool to predict the isotopic signatures associated with reduced mineral pools. To our knowledge, this is the first rigorous treatment of sulfur isotope fractionation subject to Monod kinetics in a mechanistic reactive transport model that considers the isotopic spatial distribution of both dissolved and solid phase sulfur species during microbially-mediated sulfate reduction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)366-393
Number of pages28
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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