Flow cytometric assessment of microbial abundance in the near-field area of seawater reverse osmosis concentrate discharge
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AbstractThe discharge of concentrate and other process waters from seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) plant operations into the marine environment may adversely affect water quality in the near-field area surrounding the outfall. The main concerns are the increase in salt concentration in receiving waters, which results in a density increase and potential water stratification near the outfall, and possible increases in turbidity, e.g., due to the discharge of filter backwash waters. Changes in ambient water quality may affect microbial abundance in the area, for example by hindering the photosynthesis process or disrupting biogenesis. It is widely accepted that marine biodiversity is lower in more extreme conditions, such as high salinity environments. As aquatic microbial communities respond very rapidly to changes in their environment, they can be used as indicators for monitoring ambient water quality. The objective of this study was to assess possible changes in microbial abundance as a result of concentrate discharge into the near-field area (<. 25. m) surrounding the outfall of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) SWRO plant. Flow cytometric (FCM) analysis was conducted in order to rapidly determine microbial abundance on a single-cell level in 107 samples, taken by diving, from the discharge area, the intake area and two control sites. FCM analysis combined the measurement of distinct scatter of cells and particles, autofluorescence of cyanobacteria and algae, and fluorescence after staining of nucleic acids with SYBR® Green for a total bacterial count. The results indicate that changes in microbial abundance in the near-field area of the KAUST SWRO outfall are minor and appear to be the result of a dilution effect rather than a direct impact of the concentrate discharge. © 2014 Elsevier B.V.