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Soil Air

Soil air is a continuation of the atmospheric air. Unlike the other components, it is constant state of motion from the soil pores into the atmosphere and from the atmosphere into the pore space. This constant movement or circulation of air in the soil mass resulting in the renewal of its component gases is known as soil aeration.

Composition of Soil Air: The soil air contains a number of gases of which nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide and water vapour are the most important. Soil air constantly moves from the soil pores into the atmosphere and from the atmosphere into the pore space. Soil air and atmospheric air differ in the compositions. Soil air contains a much greater proportion of carbon dioxide and a lesser amount of oxygen than atmospheric air. At the same time, soil air contains a far great amount of water vapour than atmospheric air. The amount of nitrogen in soil air is almost the same as in the atmosphere.

Composition of soil and atmospheric air

Percentage by volume




Carbon dioxide

Soil Air




Atmospheric Air




Factors Affecting the Composition of Soil Air:

1. Nature and condition of soil: The quantity of oxygen in soil air is less than that in atmospheric air. The amount of oxygen also depends upon the soil depth. The oxygen content of the air in lower layer is usually less than that of the surface soil. This is possibly due to more readily diffusion of the oxygen from the atmosphere into the surface soil than in the subsoil. Light texture soil or sandy soil contains much higher percentage than heavy soil. The concentration of CO2 is usually greater in subsoil probably due to more sluggish aeration in lower layer than in the surface soil.

2. Type of crop: Plant roots require oxygen, which they take from the soil air and deplete the concentration of oxygen in the soil air. Soils on which crops are grown contain more CO2 than fallow lands. The amount of CO2 is usually much greater near the roots of plants than further away. It may be due to respiration by roots.

3. Microbial activity: The microorganisms in soil require oxygen for respiration and they take it from the soil air and thus deplete its concentration in the soil air. Decomposition of organic matter produces CO2 because of increased microbial activity. Hence, soils rich in organic matter contain higher percentage of CO2.

4. Seasonal variation:
The quantity of oxygen is usually higher in dry season than during the monsoon. Because soils are normally drier during the summer months, opportunity for gaseous exchange is greater during this period. This results in relatively high O2 and low CO2 levels. Temperature also influences the CO2 content in the soil air. High temperature during summer season encourages microorganism activity which results in higher production of CO2.

Current Category » Introduction to Soil Science