Rapid biotic molecular transformation of fulvic acids in a karst aquifer

Florian Einsiedl
Norbert Hertkorn
Manfred Wolf
Moritz Frommberger
Philippe Schmitt-Kopplin
Boris P. Koch


The study of molecular transformation processes of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in the environment significantly contributes to a better understanding of the global biogeochemical organic matter cycle. In an oxic karst groundwater system, in which the most powerful abiotic DOC degradative reactions, photodegradation and metal-mediated redox chemistry, are at best marginal contributors, a near complete turnover of fulvic acids (FAs) has been observed within decades (∼60 years). Depletion of oxygen for a very extensive range of aliphatic and aromatic carbon chemical environments has been confirmed as well as the formation of novel classes of compounds, suggesting a major contribution from biotic processes. From these results we infer that FAs must be perceived as a rather active participant in the global carbon cycle. Molecular-level alterations of such magnitude and rapidity on such short-time scales ought to be considered as widespread in the processing of “refractory” DOC in the environment.