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Abstract

Geochemical and microbial evidence points to anaerobic oxidation of methane (AOM) likely coupled with bacterial sulfate reduction in the hypersaline groundwater of the Dead Sea (DS) alluvial aquifer. Groundwater was sampled from nine boreholes drilled along the Arugot alluvial fan next to the DS. The groundwater samples were highly saline (up to 6300 mm chlorine), anoxic, and contained methane. A mass balance calculation demonstrates that the very low δ13CDIC in this groundwater is due to anaerobic methane oxidation. Sulfate depletion coincident with isotope enrichment of sulfur and oxygen isotopes in the sulfate suggests that sulfate reduction is associated with this AOM. DNA extraction and 16S amplicon sequencing were used to explore the microbial community present and were found to be microbial composition indicative of bacterial sulfate reducers associated with anaerobic methanotrophic archaea (ANME) driving AOM. The net sulfate reduction seems to be primarily controlled by the salinity and the available methane and is substantially lower as salinity increases (2.5 mm sulfate removal at 3000 mm chlorine but only 0.5 mm sulfate removal at 6300 mm chlorine). Low overall sulfur isotope fractionation observed (34ε = 17 ± 3.5‰) hints at high rates of sulfate reduction, as has been previously suggested for sulfate reduction coupled with methane oxidation. The new results demonstrate the presence of sulfate-driven AOM in terrestrial hypersaline systems and expand our understanding of how microbial life is sustained under the challenging conditions of an extremely hypersaline environment.