Net transport of atmospheric gases into and out of soil systems is primarily controlled by diffusion along gas partial pressure gradients. Gas fluxes between soil and the atmosphere can therefore be estimated by a generalization of the equation for ordinary gaseous diffusion in porous unsaturated media. Consumption of CH4 by methylotrophic bacteria in the top several centimeters of soil causes the uptake of atmospheric CH4 by aerated soils. The capacity of the methylotrophs to consume CH4 commonly exceeds the potential of CH4 to diffuse from the atmosphere to the consumers. The maximum rate of uptake of atmospheric CH4 by soil is, therefore, limited by diffusion and can be calculated from soil physical properties and the CH4 concentration gradient. The CH4 concentration versus depth profile is theoretically described by the equation for gaseous diffusion with homogeneous chemical reaction in porous unsaturated media. This allows for calculation of the in situ rate of CH4 consumption within specified depth intervals.
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Diffusional limits to the consumption of atmospheric methane by soils