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Keywords:

  • Pyrite;
  • Marcasite;
  • Arsenopyrite;
  • Surface reaction;
  • Microbial attachment;
  • Dissolution;
  • Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans;
  • Thiobacillus ferrooxidans;
  • Ferroplasma acidarmanus

Abstract

Leaching patterns on sulfide minerals were investigated by high-resolution scanning electron microscopy (SEM). Our goal was to evaluate the relative contributions of inorganic surface reactions and reactions localized by attached cells to surface morphology evolution. Experiments utilized pyrite (FeS2), marcasite (FeS2) and arsenopyrite (FeAsS), and two iron-oxidizing prokaryotes in order to determine the importance of cell type, crystal structure, and mineral dissolution rate in microbially induced pit formation. Pyrite surfaces were reacted with the iron-oxidizing bacterium Acidithiobacillus ferrooxidans (at 25°C), the iron-oxidizing archaeon ‘Ferroplasma acidarmanus’ (at 37°C), and abiotically in the presence of Fe3+ ions. In all three experiments, discrete bacillus-sized (1–2 μm) and -shaped (elliptical) pits developed on pyrite surfaces within 1 week of reaction. Results show that attaching cells are not necessary for pit formation on pyrite. Marcasite and arsenopyrite surfaces were reacted with A. ferrooxidans (at 25°C) and ‘F. acidarmanus’ (at 37°C). Cell-sized and cell-shaped dissolution pits were not observed on marcasite or arsenopyrite at any point during reaction with A. ferrooxidans, or on marcasite surfaces reacted with ‘F. acidarmanus’. However, individual ‘F. acidarmanus’ cells were found within individual shallow (<0.5 μm deep) pits. The size and shape (round rather than elliptical) of the pits conformed closely to the shape of F. acidarmanus (cells) pits on arsenopyrite. We infer these pits to be cell-induced. We attribute the formation of pits readily detectable (by SEM) to the higher reactivity of arsenopyrite compared to pyrite and marcasite under the conditions the experiment was conducted. These pits contributed little to the overall surface topographical evolution, and most likely did not significantly increase surface area during reaction. Our results suggest that overall sulfide mineral dissolution may be dominated by surface reactions with Fe3+ rather than by reactions at the cell–mineral interface.