EGU General Assembly 2020
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Dynamics and effects of soil CO2 on carbonate dissolution and transport in response to precipitation events

Martin Maier1, Laurin Osterholt1, and Andreas Hartmann2
Martin Maier et al.
  • 1Forest Research Institute, Department Soil & Environment, Freiburg, Germany (
  • 2Chair of Hydrological Modeling and Water Resources, Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg, Freiburg, Germany

Dissolution of CaCO3 in calcareous soils is mainly governed by CO2 which forms a weak but ubiquitous acid in the aqueous phase. Soil CO2 concentrations are generally higher than atmospheric concentrations due to the CO2 production in the soil. It is generally assumed, that it is mainly the CO2 concentration in the soil and the discharge that control the re-location of CaCO3, and thus the further formation of soil and karst. In most cases soil and karst systems are considered to be static and that the CaCO3 dissolution process is a steady state process. However, we know that soil CO2 concentrations can be highly dynamic and are affected by soil temperature and soil moisture. Our objective was to investigate whether this steady state assumption regarding carbonate dissolution and transport can be applied or whether we have to consider the dynamics and interaction of soil CO2 and dissolution of CaCO3 in the aqueous phase.

We report on insights from a 3 year field study in a calcareous soil in which soil CO2 concentrations and its response to soil moisture and precipitation were investigated. Low intensity precipitation resulted in slow increase in soil CO2 concentration, since increased soil water content blocks formerly air-filled pores. Intense precipitation events were followed by fast infiltration and probably preferential flow. Intense precipitation also resulted in temporary drops in soil CO2. These drops can be explained by a relative under-saturation of the soil solution at a certain depth. The soil solution is mixed with infiltrating rain water, which is still equilibrated with the lower atmospheric CO2 concentrations and thus drawing CO2 from the surrounding soil air. These mechanisms should results in a much stronger dissolution of local CaCO3 and net transport of dissolved CaCO3.

A following laboratory experiment on mesocosms of natural soil and restructured soil was used to test and reproduce the observed CO2 patterns as well as dissolution and transport of carbonate due to precipitation events. These experiments also showed that higher intensity of precipitation results in stronger drops in soil CO2 concentration and higher transport rates of dissolved CaCO3. Hydrus1D was used to model soil CO2 dynamics and dissolution of CaCO3 in the aqueous phase for the measured scenarios. The observed general pattern of the “drops” of soil CO2 could be easily reproduced confirming the assumption of CO2 undersaturated soil water right after the precipitation events. The natural soil mesocosm showed comparable patterns in all precipitations experiments. The restructured soil mesocosm showed a high mobilization and drainage during the first precipitations experiments which then fast declined to the level of the natural soil mesocosm. We interpret this as fast dissolution and washing off of carbonates attached to the macropore surfaces in which preferential flow occurs.

We conclude that dynamics and interaction of soil CO2 and dissolution of CaCO3 in the aqueous phase are highly dynamic and affected by preferential flow. It seems that general patterns can be reproduced using Hydrus 1D, with the hydrological parametrization as a major challenge.

This research was financially supported by DFG (MA 5826/2-1).

How to cite: Maier, M., Osterholt, L., and Hartmann, A.: Dynamics and effects of soil CO2 on carbonate dissolution and transport in response to precipitation events , EGU General Assembly 2020, Online, 4–8 May 2020, EGU2020-19189,, 2020.

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  • CC1: Comment on EGU2020-19189, Nicholas Nickerson, 08 May 2020

    Hi Martin. Curious if you have any insights on how all of these interactions in the subsoil affect the overall soil flux during the rainfall events. Also very curious to know your thoughts about how to incorporate these subsurface impacts into soil models . 

    • AC1: Reply to CC1, Martin Maier, 08 May 2020

      Hi Nick, 

      I think that this process doesnt affect the overall efflux of soil CO2 over time scales >2 days not that much , and >10 days not at all ( see my paper in AFM 2011- efflux vs soil respiration). 

      But it affects where the the CaCO3 is dissolved and, where it is transported to, and where it will precipitate. And this affects the evolution of soils and e.g. epikarst systems. The process can more or less be reproduced by Hydrus. The challenge is to get the flow patterns rights. And the longterm changes that are associated with this mechanism are difficult to assess. Does CaCO3 dissolution and transport  happen only at the surface or throughot the profile?