High-resolution vertical biogeochemical profiles in the hyporheic zone reveal insights into microbial methane cycling

Tamara Michaelis, Anja Wunderlich, Ömer K. Coskun, William Orsi, Thomas Baumann, Florian Einsiedl

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Facing the challenges of climate change, policy making relies on sound greenhouse gas (GHG) budgets. Rivers and streams emit large quantities of the potent GHG methane (CH4), but their global impact on atmospheric CH4 concentrations is highly uncertain. In situ data from the hyporheic zone (HZ), where most CH4 is produced and some of it can be oxidized to CO2, are lacking for an accurate description of CH4 production and consumption in streams. To address this, we recorded high-resolution depth-resolved geochemical profiles at five different locations in the stream bed of the river Moosach, southern Germany. Specifically, we measured pore-water concentrations and stable carbon isotopes (δ13C) of dissolved CH4 as well as relevant electron acceptors for oxidation with a 1 cm vertical depth resolution. Findings were interpreted with the help of a numerical model, and 16S rRNA gene analyses added information on the microbial community at one of the locations. Our data confirm with pore-water CH4 concentrations of up to 1000 μmol L-1 that large quantities of CH4 are produced in the HZ. Stable isotope measurements of CH4 suggest that hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis represents a dominant pathway for CH4 production in the HZ of the river Moosach, while a relatively high abundance of a novel group of methanogenic archaea, the Candidatus "Methanomethyliales"(phylum Candidatus "Verstraetearchaeota"), indicate that CH4 production through H2-dependent methylotrophic methanogenesis might also be an important CH4 source. Combined isotopic and modeling results clearly implied CH4 oxidation processes at one of the sampled locations, but due to the steep chemical gradients and the close proximity of the oxygen and nitrate reduction zones, no single electron acceptor for this process could be identified. Nevertheless, the numerical modeling results showed potential not only for aerobic CH4 oxidation but also for anaerobic oxidation of CH4 coupled to denitrification. In addition, the nitrate-methane transition zone was characterized by an increased relative abundance of microbial groups (Crenothrix, NC10) known to mediate nitrate and nitrite-dependent methane oxidation in the hyporheic zone. This study demonstrates substantial CH4 production in hyporheic sediments, a potential for aerobic and anaerobic CH4 oxidation, and underlines the high spatiotemporal variability in this habitat.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)4551-4569
Number of pages19
Issue number18
StatePublished - 21 Sep 2022


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