Soil gas samples were obtained from the unsaturated zone at eight sites in the Great Plains. Three of these sites were sampled extensively for gas composition and carbon isotopes. Sampling equipment consisted of a nest of gas probes vertically spaced by roughly 3m at most sites, generally approaching the water table. Water wells, 10cm in diameter, were screened in the topmost layer groundwater. Inverted cattle tanks were used to collect CO2 samples from the soil surface. The major gas components were analyzed with emphasis on CO2, δ 13C, and 14C measurements. The same components were studied in groundwater samples. Higher than atmospheric CO2 concentrations were found in all soil samples. Root respiration and oxidation of organic matter were sources for the additional CO2. When lignite was present in the unsaturated zone, gaseous oxygen reacted almost completely, and CO2 levels rose to 19%. Near the surface, annual cycles in total CO2, δ 13C, and 14C were observed. 14C activities were close to present post-bomb levels at the surface and generally declined with depth. At some sites, oxidation of lignite caused decline of 14C levels to 1 or 2% of their surface value at 8m depth. Without lignite, the 14C activity remained above 50% at all depths. Concentrations of total carbon and its isotopes in ground water remained very stable throughout the study. This implies that geochemical processes in the aquifer vary on time scales longer than the seasonal effects observed in the near-surface unsaturated zone.