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Metal cycling and groundwater quality

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Approximately 1.1 billion people lack access to safe drinking water due to an uneven distribution of water resources and chronic water quality issues. Both anthropogenic and natural sources of contamination threaten drinking water quality in groundwater supplies around the world. We seek to understand the biogeochemical and physical processes controlling the cycling of toxic metals/metalloids (e.g. uranium, chromium, arsenic) and their interaction with other species (e.g. nitrate, phosphate, organic carbon) in groundwater systems. The fate and transport of these contaminants is often governed by reduction-oxidation (redox) state, which is a function of both biotic and abiotic processes. In addition to biogeochemical processes, physical heterogeneity of soil and sediments can control the release of contaminants to the surrounding groundwater. To examine these processes, we use a combination of approaches including (1) simplified laboratory experiments (2) field sampling and observations, and (3) reactive transport modeling.

Current Members

  • Alandra Lopez
  • Randall Holmes
  • Allie Sherris
  • Kristin Boye

Past Members

  • Sarah Fakhreddine
  • Scott Roycroft
  • Mike Schaeffer
  • Jason Stuckey
  • Jessi Ditmar
  • Sam Ying
  • Ben Kocar
  • Chris Oze
  • Debra Hausladen


  • Dublet, G. J. Lezama Pacheco, J. R. Bargar, S. Fendorf, N. Kumar, G. V. Lowry, G. E. Brown. 2017. Partitioning of uranyl between ferrihydrite and humic substances at acidic and circum-neutral pH, Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta  215: 122-140


  • Hausladen, D.M. and S. Fendorf. 2017. Hexavalent chromium generation within naturally structured soils and sediments. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51: 2058–2067.  DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b04039

  • McClain, C.N., S. Fendorf, S. M. Webb, and K. Maher. 2017. Quantifying Cr(VI) production and export from serpentine soil of the California coast range. Environ. Sci. Technol. 51: 141-149  DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.6b03484

  • Noël, V., K. Boye, R.K. Kukkadapu, S. Bone, J.S.L. Pacheco, E. Cardarelli, N. Janot, S. Fendorf, K. H. Williams, J. R. Bargar. 2017. Understanding controls on redox processes in floodplain sediments of the Upper Colorado River Basin. Sci. Tot. Environ.

  • Schaefer, M.V., Guo, X., Gan, Y., Benner, S.G., Griffin, A.M., Gorski, C.A., Wang, Y., Fendorf, S., 2017. Redox controls on arsenic enrichment and release from aquifer sediments in central Yangtze River Basin. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 204, 104-119.

  • Ying, S. C., M. V. Schaefer, A. Cock-Esteb, J. Li, and S. Fendorf. 2017.  Depth stratification leads to distinct zones of manganese and arsenic contaminated groundwater. Environ. Sci. Technol. 2017. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.7b01121.

  • Fakhreddine, S., J. Lee, P. K. Kitanidis, S. Fendorf, M. Rolle. 2016. Imaging geochemical heterogeneities using inverse reactive transport modeling: An example relevant for characterizing arsenic mobilization and distribution, Adv. Water Res. 88: 186-197. DOI: 10.1016/j.advwatres.2015.12.005.

  • Fendorf, S., and S. G. Benner. 2016.  Indo-Gangetic groundwater threat.  Nature Geoscience  DOI:10.1038/ngeo2804

  • Oze, C., N. H. Sleep, R. G. Coleman, and S. Fendorf. 2016.  Anoxic oxidation of chromium. Geology  44: 543-546. DOI 10.1130/G37844.1

  • Schaefer, M.V., S.C. Ying, S. G. Benner, Y. Duan, Y. Wang, and S. Fendorf. 2016. Aquifer arsenic cycling induced by seasonal hydrologic changes within the Yangtze River basin. Environ. Sci. Technol. DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b04986.

  • Stuckey, J.W., M. V. Schaefer, B. D. Kocar, S. G. Benner, and S. Fendorf. 2016. Arsenic release metabolically constrained to permanently saturated soils in Mekong Delta. Nature Geosciences 9: 70-76.  doi:10.1038/ngeo2589

  • Fakhreddine, S.,  J. Dittmar, D. Phipps, J. Dadakis, and S. Fendorf. 2015.  Geochemical triggers of arsenic mobilization during managed aquifer recharge.  Environ. Sci. Technol. 49: 7802−7809.  DOI: 10.1021/acs.est.5b01140

Hydrologic and biogeochemical controls on hexavalent chromium generation

As our understanding of known Cr(VI) sources expands from industrial point sources to include natural soils and sediments, it is critical to identify the processes which control Cr(VI) generation within native aquifers. Chromium(III) within minerals common to ultramafic rocks, their metamorphic derivatives, and weathering products, can be oxidized to Cr(VI) via reaction with Mn-oxides, chromium’s principal oxidant under environmental conditions. We use dynamic lab microcosms in order to explore the mechanism for Cr(VI) generation in pristine aquifers. In these controlled environments, we explore the control of microbial communities, along with abiotic processes, on both Cr(VI) oxidation and reductive immobilization. We also incorporate geospatial analysis and reactive transport modeling to further constrain the controls on Cr(VI) cycling within the environment. 

Geochemical triggers of arsenic release during managed aquifer recharge

Managed aquifer recharge is an increasingly popular method to augment local groundwater supplies. However, artificial recharge can alter the native groundwater chemistry of an aquifer, resulting in the release of naturally-occurring contaminants including arsenic. We work with Orange County Water District, which is currently the largest potable reuse advanced treatment plant in the world, to understand how high purity recharge water can result in the release of arsenic to groundwater. We use soil columns packed with sediment samples collected near recharge basins to examine interactions between recharge water and native As within sediments. For more info: