BGR Bundesanstalt für Geowissenschaften und Rohstoffe



Coming soon: GIRAF 2011 Workshop

5. - 9. December 2011
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Organised by the IUGS-CGI and UNESCO
Hosting Organisation: SEAMIC


GIRAF: Geoscience InfoRmation AFrica. Logo



Geomicrobiology is the scientific field at the intersection of geology and microbiology. It concerns the effect of microbes on geological and geochemical processes and vice versa. Such interactions occur in the geosphere (rocks, minerals, soils, and sediments), the atmosphere and the hydrosphere. Applications include aquifers and public drinking water supplies.

In the oceanic crustal aquifer, the largest aquifer on Earth, microbial communities can impact ocean productivity, sea water chemistry as well as geochemical cycling throughout the geosphere. The mineral make-up of the rocks affects the composition and abundance of these subseafloor microbial communities present. Through bioremediation some microbes can aid in decontaminating freshwater resources in aquifers contaminated by waste products.

Some bacteria use metal ions as their energy source. They convert (or chemically reduce) the dissolved metal ions from one electrical state to another. This reduction releases energy for the bacteria's use, and, as a side product, serves to concentrate the metals into what ultimately become ore deposits. Biohydrometallurgy or in situ mining is where low-grade ores may be attacked by well-studied microbial processes under controlled conditions to extract metals. Certain iron, copper, uranium and even gold ores are thought to have formed as the result of microbe action.

Microbial remediation is used in soils to remove contaminants and pollutants. Microbes play a key role in many biogeochemistry cycles and can effect a variety of soil properties, such as biotransformation of mineral and metal speciation, toxicity, mobility, mineral precipitation, and mineral dissolution. Microbes play a role in the immobilization and detoxification of a variety of elements, such as metals, radionuclides, sulfur and phosphorus, in the soil.Thirteen metals are considered priority pollutants (Sb, As, Be, Cd, Cr, Cu, Pb, Ni, Se, Ag, Tl, Zn, Hg). Soils and sediment act as sinks for metals which originate from both natural sources through rocks and minerals as well as anthropogenic sources through agriculture, industry, mining, waste disposal, among others.

Microbes can affect the quality of oil and gas deposits through their metabolic processes. Microbes can influence the development of hydrocarbons by being present at the time of deposition of the source sediments or by dispersing through the rock column to colonize reservoir or source lithologies after the generation of hydrocarbons.

Interactions between microbes and sediment record some of the earliest evidence of life on earth. Information on the life during Archean Earth is recorded in bacterial fossils and stromatolites preserved in precipitated lithologies such as chert or carbonates. Additional evidence of early life on land around 3.5 billion years ago can be found in the Dresser formation of Australia in a hot spring facies, indicating that some of Earth's earliest life on land occurred in hot springs. Microbially induced sedimentary structures (MISS) are found throughout the geologic record up to 3.2 billion years old. They are formed by the interaction of microbial mats and physical sediment dynamics, and record paleoenvironmental data as well as providing evidence of early life. The different paleoenvironments of early life on Earth also serves as model when searching for potential fossil life on Mars.

Another area of investigation in geomicrobiology is the study of extremophile organisms, the microorganisms that thrive in environments normally considered hostile to life. Such environments may include extremely hot (hot springs or mid-ocean ridge black smoker) environments, extremely saline environments, or even space environments such as Martian soil or comets.

Observations and research in hyper-saline lagoon environments in Brazil and Australia as well as slightly saline, inland lake environments in NW China have shown that anaerobic sulfate-reducing bacteria may be directly involved in the formation of dolomite. This suggests the alteration and replacement of limestone sediments by dolomitization in ancient rocks was possibly aided by ancestors to these anaerobic bacteria.


Dr. Kristine Asch
Phone: +49-(0)511-643-3324
Fax: +49-(0)511-643-3782