Intra-aggregate CO2 enrichment: a modelling approach for aerobic soils
Abstract. CO2 concentration gradients inside soil aggregates, caused by the respiration of soil microorganisms and fungal hyphae, might lead to variations in the soil solution chemistry on a mm-scale, and to an underestimation of the CO2 storage. But, up to now, there seems to be no feasible method for measuring CO2 inside natural aggregates with sufficient spatial resolution. We combined a one-dimensional model for gas diffusion in the inter-aggregate pore space with a cylinder diffusion model, simulating the consumption/production and diffusion of O2 and CO2 inside soil aggregates with air- and water-filled pores. Our model predicts that for aerobic respiration (respiratory quotient = 1) the intra-aggregate increase in the CO2 partial pressure can never be higher than 0.9 kPa for siliceous, and 0.1 kPa for calcaric aggregates, independent of the level of water-saturation. This suggests that only for siliceous aggregates CO2 produced by aerobic respiration might cause a high small-scale spatial variability in the soil solution chemistry. In calcaric aggregates, however, the contribution of carbonate species to the CO2 transport should lead to secondary carbonates on the aggregate surfaces. As regards the total CO2 storage in aerobic soils, both siliceous and calcaric, the effect of intra-aggregate CO2 gradients seems to be negligible. To assess the effect of anaerobic respiration on the intra-aggregate CO2 gradients, the development of a device for measuring CO2 on a mm-scale in soils is indispensable.