Journal article

Transport of methane and noble gases during gas push-pull tests in dry porous media

A field method called the gas push-pull test (GPPT) was previously developed and tested for the in situ quantification of aerobic methane (CH4) oxidation by soil microorganisms. The GPPT consists of an injection followed by extraction of reactant and tracer gases into and out of the soil. Quantification of microbial activities from GPPTs requires insight in the transport of reactant and tracer gases under diverse field conditions. We investigated how the transport of different tracer gases (He, Ne, and Ar) compares to that of the reactant gas CH4 during GPPTs conducted in a well-defined, dry porous media that mimicked an open system. Transport of gaseous components during GPPT is mainly driven by advection resulting from injection and extraction and diffusion driven by concentration gradients. Regardless of the advective component (selected injection/extraction, flow rates 0.2-0.8 L min-1), diffusion was the dominant transport mechanism for gaseous components. This resulted in dissimilar transport of CH4 and the tracers He and Ne. Numerical simulations of GPPTs showed that similar transport of these components is only achieved at very high injection/extraction rates that, in practice, are not feasible since they would imply extremely short duration times of GPPTs to allow for consumption of a measurable amount of reactant(s) by soil microorganisms. However, Ar transport was similar to that of CH4. Hence, Ar may be a good tracer provided that it is injected at high concentrations (e.g., >25% [v/v]) to overcome its background concentration in soil air. Using moderate injection/extraction rates (e.g., 0.6 L min-1) with injected volumes of 10-30 L will result in GPPT durations of 1-3 h, which would suffice to attain a measurable consumption of reactant(s) in soils having relatively high (e.g., first-order rate constants >0.3 h-1) microbial activities.


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