Soil columns simulating soil aquifer treatment (SAT), fed with synthetic secondary effluent by intermittent infiltration of flooding/drying cycles, were characterized for nitrogen and organic carbon removal, and microbial ecology and biokinetics. The columns differed in the concentration ratio of chemical oxygen demand (COD) to the summed NH4+, NO2− and organic nitrogen—2 (C/N2) or 5 (C/N5). Chemical profiles along the column demonstrated a preference for COD oxidation over nitrification and coupled denitrification, with higher nitrogen loss (57% vs. 16%) in the C/N5 column. Unexpectedly, significant dominance of the genus Nitrospira over the genus Nitrobacter and ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) was strongly correlated at column depths where NH4+ removal occurred. Moreover, the Nitrospira profile had the strongest correlation to the profile of NH4+ (positive) and NO3− (negative), strongly indicating complete ammonia oxidation. 16S sequencing analysis of the topsoil in C/N2 vs. C/N5 columns revealed double the abundance of microbial aerobic potential (64% vs. 32%) vs. one-third the denitrification potential (13% vs. 31%). The concentrations and degradability levels of organic carbon were the most influential parameters shaping community structure. Niche differentiation within the biofilm attached to the soil is suggested to have an important role in the process's anoxic activity and nitrogen removal.
- Soil aquifer treatment