Biologically influenced gas fluxes revealed by high-resolution monitoring of unsaturated soil columns

Modulations of advective gas fluxes at the soil–atmosphere interface were investigated using an enhanced experimental setup developed to perform tracer gas percolation experiments through unsaturated soil columns under well-controlled conditions associated with long-term and high-resolution monitoring. The setup design includes the effect of watering and evaporation cycles, barometric pressure fluctuations, variations in the injection pressure, and plant metabolism. Although injected at a constant flux at the base of the columns, SF6 surface fluxes varied on a timescale of hours to days. These modulations are controlled by (a) barometric pressure, (b) water content and distribution, and (c) plant metabolism. All three mainly act on the pressure gradient. Surface gas fluxes decrease under drying conditions, which increases gas porosity and the relative gas permeability and lowers the pressure gradient. Respiration of plant roots is shown to be responsible for daytime–nighttime oscillations of the tracer flux. During nighttime, O2 consumption and CO2 production locally lowers the pressure gradient up to the root zone due to the higher solubility of CO2 in pore water, resulting in an increased SF6 flux at the surface. During daytime, enhanced water loss by evapotranspiration associated with photosynthesis dominated the respiration effect and resulted in decreasing surface gas fluxes, as generally shown for drying conditions. Surface gas fluxes are therefore controlled by combined physical, chemical, and biological processes. This has important consequences, notably when discrete flux measurements are integrated in space and/or in time to quantify emissions or when used for detecting, identifying, or monitoring underground gas sources.


Biologically influenced gas fluxes revealed by high-resolution monitoring of unsaturated soil columns
Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Vadose Zone Journal
Submitted on 21 October 2021