Modeling carbon dioxide transport in unsaturated soils

Andrew S. Altevogt, Michael Anthony Celia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Transport of carbon dioxide in the unsaturated zone is important to soil geochemistry and vegetation health. In addition, CO2 monitoring in unsaturated soils may shed light on various human-instigated activities involving manipulation of the carbon cycle. Examples of human activities that can impact the unsaturated zone include imposed changes in vegetation type and distribution, and deliberate injection of CO2 into deep subsurface formations. Both manipulation of vegetation and injection of CO2 are potential options for mitigation of the greenhouse gas and global warming problems. Changes in plant type and density, and leakage of CO2 from deep to shallow subsurface zones, can impact the unsaturated zone. Because CO2 is denser than air, transport in the unsaturated zone may show significant density dependence. In addition, careful analysis shows that a newly derived 'slip coupling' term might also be important in these gaseous systems. In this work, we present the general governing equations for CO2 migration in unsaturated soils for a variety of boundary and initial conditions. A one-dimensional numerical model is used to investigate CO2 migration under different leakage scenarios, where the leakage is assumed to be associated with large-scale injection operations as part of a deep-aquifer carbon storage strategy. We demonstrate how CO2 migrates in the unsaturated zone, how the resulting distribution compares to natural background distributions, and what the results may imply both for monitoring strategies and for vegetation and ecosystem health.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-47
Number of pages7
JournalDevelopments in Water Science
Issue numberC
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Oceanography
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Ocean Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineering


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