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Effect of cyanide-mineral interactions on granite weathering in a glacier forefield

English title Effect of cyanide-mineral interactions on granite weathering in a glacier forefield
Applicant Furrer Gerhard
Number 120601
Funding scheme Interdisciplinary projects
Research institution Institut für Biogeochemie und Schadstoffdynamik ETH Zürich
Institution of higher education ETH Zurich - ETHZ
Main discipline Pedology
Start/End 01.05.2009 - 30.04.2012
Approved amount 190'725.00
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All Disciplines (4)

Environmental Research

Keywords (8)

Mineral weathering; Granite; Alpine glacier forefield; Organic ligands; Cyanide; Nutrients; Cyanogenic microorganisms; Initial soil formation

Lay Summary (English)

Lay summary
This research proposal addresses the most important gaps in the biogeochemical knowledge of weathering processes crucial for the supply of nutrients required by the pioneering life in postglacial alpine areas. The main objectives are focussed on the processes at the mineral-water interface where aqueous solutes act directly as dissolution-promoting agents.With climate change, large areas of bare rock will be exposed as glaciers retreat. To prevent erosion in the affected areas, the development of soil and vegetation cover is essential. In post-glaciated mountain areas, where terrestrial life has to evolve under harsh conditions with very little organic carbon, microbial colonization can nevertheless be rapid. The most essential biogeochemical interactions between microorganisms and mineral surfaces and their effect on mineral dissolution rates are not understood. Dissolution of most primary rock-forming minerals is limited by slow kinetics of the reactions at the mineral-water interfaces. Fresh fine rock materials produced by glacier abrasion with unweathered surfaces are most likely to be the primary source of nutrients for pioneer microorganisms. In addition, weathered rock material and secondary precipitates can serve as source of nutrients for microbial and plant life. Both kind of rock material will be studied systematically with respect to proton- and ligand-promoted dissolution, considering cyanide as well as the organic ligands oxalate and salicylate. We plan to obtain reference rock material of freshly ground granite from the Damma glacier area. In addition, a series ranging from fresh fine rock material produced by glacier abrasion to weathered stream sediments will be sampled.The main experimental objectives include (1) the study of intrinsic mineralogical weathering factors, (2) the study of extrinsic environmental weathering factors, (3) the elucidation of the mechanism of ligand-promoted dissolution of individual minerals, (4) the experimental evaluation of the weathering potential of cyanide-producing bacteria, and (5) computer modelling of weathering processes involved in the glacier forefield. This challenging task will be approached following an interdisciplinary perspective. Mineralogy contributes to the planned work in respect to chemical and physical properties of minerals. Surface chemistry covers the chemical dissolution mechanism, including modeling. Environmental microbiology addresses the physiological abilities and metabolic activities of microorganisms resulting in the solubilization of elements from solids.
Direct link to Lay Summary Last update: 21.02.2013

Responsible applicant and co-applicants


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Scientific events

Active participation

Title Type of contribution Title of article or contribution Date Place Persons involved
IBP PhD congress 2012 13.04.2012 ETH Zurich, Switzerland
Goldschmidt 2011 14.08.2011 Prague, Czech Republic

Associated projects

Number Title Start Funding scheme
140857 Effect of cyanide-mineral interactions on granite weathering in a glacier forefield 01.05.2012 Interdisciplinary projects