A two-dimensional (2D) imaging technique, planar optode (PO) technique, is developed to investigate biogeochemical processes at a high resolution in heterogeneous sediments and soils, especially at the sediment-water interface. Compositional changes with depth in sediments are usually considered to be relatively steady. However, the activities of benthic organisms can generate significant heterogeneity and complex 3D transport-reaction patterns over millimeter to meter scales in the surficial sediments. Spatial and temporal quantification of the variables such as O-2 in the bioturbated sediments promoted the development of the planar optode. Different planar optode techniques including composite planar optode for multi-analytes and the combination of planar optode with diffusive gradients in thin films (DGT) have been developed and used to study the 2D solutes distributions and/or dynamics of O-2, pH, partial pressure of CO2 (pCO(2)), temperature, exoenzymes, and metal/metalloid ions in sediments and soils. New findings observed in laboratory-based microcosm experiments and field-based in situ studies using planar optode techniques, have significantly improved our understanding of heterogeneous biogeochemical reactions and processes. In this article we provide a critical review on the: 1) research progress using planar optode techniques; 2) principles, configurations, and devices used for planar optode systems; 3) characteristics and interferences associated with planar optode measurements; and 4) applications of planar optode in the environment. We have suggested the barriers, advantages, and research needs for the use of planar optodes.