Soil gas probes for monitoring trace gas messengers of microbial activity

Soil microbes vigorously produce and consume gases that reflect active soil biogeochemical processes. Soil gas measurements are therefore a powerful tool to monitor microbial activity. Yet, the majority of soil gases lack non-disruptive subsurface measurement methods at spatiotemporal scales relevant to microbial processes and soil structure. To address this need, we developed a soil gas sampling system that uses novel diffusive soil probes and sample transfer approaches for high-resolution sampling from discrete subsurface regions. Probe sampling requires transferring soil gas samples to above-ground gas analyzers where concentrations and isotopologues are measured. Obtaining representative soil gas samples has historically required balancing disruption to soil gas composition with measurement frequency and analyzer volume demand. These considerations have limited attempts to quantify trace gas spatial concentration gradients and heterogeneity at scales relevant to the soil microbiome.

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FIG: (a) Diffusive exchange across sPTFE membrane. (b) Probe mounted in the soil column. Sample air exiting the probe is diluted and transferred to analyzers (c) that measure time series of concentrations and isotopic ratios from multiple probes.

Here, we describe our new flexible diffusive probe sampling system integrated with a modified, reduced volume trace gas analyzer and demonstrate its application for subsurface monitoring of biogeochemical cycling of nitrous oxide (N2O) and its site-specific isotopologues, methane, carbon dioxide, and nitric oxide in controlled soil columns. The sampling system observed reproducible responses of soil gas concentrations to manipulations of soil nutrients and redox state, providing a new window into the microbial response to these key environmental forcings. Using site-specific N2O isotopologues as indicators of microbial processes, we constrain the dynamics of in situ microbial activity. Unlocking trace gas messengers of microbial activity will complement -omics approaches, challenge subsurface models, and improve understanding of soil heterogeneity to disentangle interactive processes in the subsurface biome.

Roscioli, J.R., Meredith, L.K., Shorter, J.H. et al. Soil gas probes for monitoring trace gas messengers of microbial activity. Sci Rep 11,8327 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-021-86930-8

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