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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal SOIL
Volume (Issue) 1(1)
Page(s) 187 - 205
Title of proceedings SOIL
DOI 10.5194/soil-1-187-2015

Open Access

Type of Open Access Website


Soils are highly complex physical and biological systems, and hence measuring soil gas exchange fluxes with high accuracy and adequate spatial representativity remains a challenge. A technique which has become increasingly popular is the eddy covariance (EC) method. This method takes advantage of the fact that surface fluxes are mixed into the near-surface atmosphere via turbulence. As a consequence, measurements with an EC system can be done at some distance above the surface, providing accurate and spatially integrated flux density estimates. In this paper we provide a basic overview targeting scientists who are not familiar with the EC method. This review gives examples of successful deployments from a wide variety of ecosystems. The primary focus is on the three major greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). Several limitations to the application of EC systems exist, requiring a careful experimental design, which we discuss in detail. Thereby we group these experiments into two main classes: (1) manipulative experiments, and (2) survey-type experiments. Recommendations and examples of successful studies using various approaches are given, including the combination of EC flux measurements with online measurements of stable isotopes. We conclude that EC should not be considered a substitute to traditional (e.g., chamber based) flux measurements but instead an addition to them. The greatest strength of EC measurements in soil science are (1) their uninterrupted continuous measurement of gas concentrations and fluxes that can also capture short-term bursts of fluxes that easily could be missed by other methods and (2) the spatial integration covering the ecosystem scale (several square meters to hectares), thereby integrating over small-scale heterogeneity in the soil.