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Research article2023Peer reviewedOpen access

Using microdialysis with a deuterium oxide tracer to estimate water exchange, water content and active surface area of the probe

Buckley, Scott; Lim, Hyungwoo; Marshall, John D.; Randewig, Dorte; Oyewole, Olusegun Ayodeji; Nasholm, Torgny; Jamtgard, Sandra


Microdialysis is a useful tool for measuring in situ fluxes of soil compounds with minimal disturbance of soil structure and function. Fluxes of sampled compounds are commonly calculated per unit of membrane surface area, assuming that the entire membrane surface is capable of exchange - which is unlikely given varying soil moisture and the occlusion of membrane pores by the soil solid phase. We present a method to quantify the degree of connectivity of the microdialysis probe membrane to the surrounding soil by means of water exchange between a microdialysis perfusate and soil solution using deuterium (2H2O; equilibrated to DHO) as an internal standard. We applied the method to a range of probe membrane surface areas and soil moisture conditions to generate empirical models that estimate membrane surface area active in exchange. Our results suggest that even in a saturated sandy soil, active membrane surface areas reach only 40.3% of the probe surface area, perhaps due to occlusion by soil particles. However, when accounting for volumetric water content of the soil, active surface areas approached 80-90% of the area likely in contact with water, indicating that sampling efficiency of waterfilled pores may still be high, particularly at slow flow rates. Furthermore, our method enables assessment of local soil water content around the probe. Models estimating soil water content were applied to field measurements of DHO exchange in three soil horizons (Organic, B1, B2) at two boreal sites, and in situ estimates were similar to those from conventional soil moisture methods when models were calibrated with the same soil type. We present DHO exchange as a powerful method for improving microdialysis flux interpretations in future studies, and for exploring small-scale water variability in relatively undisturbed soils.


Microdialysis; Water availability; Diffusive flux; Modelling; Boreal soil; Heavy water

Published in

2023, Volume: 439, article number: 116689
Publisher: ELSEVIER