Soil atmosphere

The atmosphere of soil is radically different from the atmosphere above. The consumption of oxygen, by microbes and plant roots and their release of carbon dioxide, decrease oxygen and increase carbon dioxide concentration. Atmospheric CO2 concentration is 0.03%, but in the soil pore space it may range from 10 to 100 times that level. At extreme levels CO2 is toxic. In addition, the soil voids are saturated with water vapour. Adequate porosity is necessary not just to allow the penetration of water but also to allow gases to diffuse in and out. Movement of gases is by diffusion from high concentrations to lower. Oxygen diffuses in and is consumed and excess levels of carbon dioxide, diffuse out with other gases as well as water. Soil texture and structure strongly affect soil porosity and gas diffusion. Platy and compacted soils impede gas flow, and a deficiency of oxygen may encourage anaerobic bacteria to reduce nitrate to the gases N2, N2O, and NO, which are then lost to the atmosphere. Aerated soil is also a net sink of methane CH4 but a net producer of greenhouse gases when soils are depleted of oxygen and subject to elevated temperatures.

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