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Petroleum hydrocarbon biodegradation under seasonal freeze-thaw soil temperature regimes in contaminated soils from a sub-Arctic site

NRC Biotechnology Research Institute; National Research Council Canada
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Environmental Science & Technology
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Several studies have shown that biostimulation in ex situ systems such as landfarms and biopiles can facilitate remediation of petroleum hydrocarbon contaminated soils at sub-Arctic sites during summers when temperatures are above freezing. In this study, we examine the biodegradation of semivolatile (F2: C10-C16) and nonvolatile (F3: C16-C34) petroleum hydrocarbons and microbial respiration and population dynamics at post- and presummer temperatures ranging from -5 to 14 °C. The studies were conducted in pilot-scale tanks with soils obtained from a historically contaminated sub-Arctic site in Resolution Island (RI), Canada. In aerobic, nutrient-amended, unsaturated soils, the F2 hydrocarbons decreased by 32% during the seasonal freeze-thaw phase where soils were cooled from 2 to -5 °C at a freezing rate of -0.12 °C d-1 and then thawed from -5 to 4 °C at a thawing rate of +0.16 °C d-1. In the unamended (control) tank, the F2 fraction only decreased by 14% during the same period. Biodegradation of individual hydrocarbon compounds in the nutrient-amended soils was also confirmed by comparing their abundance over time to that of the conserved diesel biomarker, bicyclic sesquiterpanes (BS). During this period, microbial respiration was observed, even at subzero temperatures when unfrozen liquid water was detected during the freeze-thaw period. An increase in culturable heterotrophs and 16S rDNA copy numbers was noted during the freezing phase, and the 14C-hexadecane mineralization in soil samples obtained from the nutrient-amended tank steadily increased. Hydrocarbon degrading bacterial populations identified as Corynebacterineae- and Alkanindiges-related strains emerged during the freezing and thawing phases, respectively, indicating there were temperature-based microbial community shifts.
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