How Do Trees Produce Oxygen?
Most people are aware of the fact that trees produce oxygen. It’s something we’re told from a very young age, perhaps something we learn in school. Yet the actual process of this oxygen production may well still be a mystery to many people. Knowing more about how trees produce oxygen could be the catalyst to giving them more protection, which would help the planet breathe, so it’s crucial that as many people as possible understand more about what trees do for us, over and above looking pretty and making paper. Since oxygen is what sustains all life on earth, without trees, this planet will die.
Although every living thing on the earth enjoys the benefits of the oxygen produced by photosynthesis, that is not the main reason for the reaction to take place. Since oxygen is not the primary purpose of photosynthesis and is actually simply a side effect of the process, why does photosynthesis occur? The answer is that this is the tree’s way of producing its own food. It does this to live. It’s that simple and that complex. Read on for more details.
The Process Of Photosynthesis
Photosynthesis is the process that turns carbon dioxide into oxygen. The word is Greek, and it translates to ‘light’ and ‘put together’. During this process the tree will combine (put together) the light from the sun, water, and carbon dioxide gas to produce oxygen.
For photosynthesis to work correctly, the first step has to be light. For the tree, this means being able to harness the sun’s energy. To do this, the chlorophyll found within the chloroplasts (cells) of the tree has to absorb the energy from the light of the sun. This is why most trees need to grow in areas with plenty of sunshine. Of course, there are some trees that can manage very well with little light, and some plants even prefer the shade, but each of them will still need at least some sunlight; if you were to put any tree or plant into an entirely dark room, it wouldn’t survive.
The chloroplasts can be seen as tiny storage units for the sun’s energy, keeping it within the tree’s cells after the chlorophyll has absorbed it. This means that even when there is no sun, the tree can continue to grow and produce oxygen as a byproduct of that growth.
The next step in photosynthesis is water. This is where the tree’s roots get to work. They absorb moisture from the ground around the tree, most commonly from rain unless the trees are watered, which might be the case if they are grown in an artificial environment. The tree is able to split the water into its component parts, namely oxygen and hydrogen. Since it can’t use the oxygen, it releases it into the air and in turn, it is breathed in by the earth’s animals, including humans.
Finally, carbon dioxide – the byproduct of oxygen and something that all animal life exhales – is required. By combining the carbon dioxide, hydrogen, and sunlight together, the plant can feed. This process also produces excess oxygen which again releases into the atmosphere.
It’s clear that trees need the earth’s population just as much as the earth needs trees; it’s a symbiotic relationship, especially when you consider that one tree can produce enough oxygen for 10 people to breathe for a year.
Threats To Tree Photosynthesis
Removing one or two trees because they could cause a danger to life or damage a building is often necessary. When we do this, we ensure that we don’t destroy any other trees in the area, and we work to the highest standards.
The same cannot be said for the companies destroying vast swathes of the earth’s tree population. Deforestation is such a big problem that we now only have around 30 percent of the earth’s landmass covered in trees. The deforestation work is removing areas of forest the size of Panama every year. It’s a horrifying thought, and when you put it into focus, it means that in just a century, all the world’s rain forests will be gone.
What does this mean for the planet? One of the effects that scientists are concerned about is the contribution deforestation is making to global warming. Without as many trees to absorb the carbon dioxide that humans and other animals are producing, it will rise into the atmosphere and contribute to the global warming crisis we are battling so hard against. On top of that, the fact that there are fewer trees but more people means that, eventually, oxygen could well become a commodity just like water and electricity. This hardly bears thinking about; imagine having to pay for the air you need to breathe.
One way to limit the issues that deforestation is causing is to plant more trees in other areas. Many environmentalists and geologists feel that this has to be the top priority for all governments. Even though the world is planting around five billion trees every year, deforestation removes approximately 15 billion, which means there is still an imbalance. Once we restore that balance, the planet can be healthier once more.
What Can Affect The Rate Of Photosynthesis?
Photosynthesis is not an easy process to measure; for some trees, it takes place quickly, allowing even those that are seemingly on the brink of death to revive themselves. For others, it all takes much longer so that trees that were otherwise healthy can die quickly if there is even a short period of extremely dry weather, for example, or in arid landscapes. In some cases, these differences can come about due to the tree’s age, overall health, and what species it is, but there are other factors. What is it exactly that can affect the rate of photosynthesis?
Light Intensity and Temperature
As we’ve mentioned, one of the most important elements that goes into the process of photosynthesis is light. The tree has to harvest sunlight and store it within the chlorophyll of the leaves. Scientists have carefully studied how different light saturation levels, light intensity, and temperature can affect the rate of photosynthesis.
The studies discovered that temperature and light were two distinctly different issues. The heat, or otherwise, barely had any effect on the tree itself, whereas the amount and strength of the light has a considerable impact. The more intense the light is that the chlorophyll can capture, the faster photosynthesis can occur (assuming that all other elements are also in place, of course). This could be the reason that some trees thrive in the warmer months and lose their leaves, effectively going into a state of hibernation in which they can survive on much weaker light in the winter.
Another of the main components needed for photosynthesis to occur is carbon dioxide. As might be expected, the levels of carbon dioxide that a tree can absorb will affect the rate of photosynthesis.
Since the 19th century, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased thanks to various production methods, the burning of fossil fuels, and even deforestation. In 1860, the atmospheric level of carbon dioxide was 0.028 percent; in 2020, scientists measured it at 0.041 percent. This means that trees are generally able to absorb more carbon dioxide and increase the rate of photosynthesis, thus producing more oxygen. At least, that’s the theory. However, trees are only able to use a certain amount of carbon dioxide depending on their size, species, and the amount of light and water they are absorbing at the same time. In some cases, the tree releases the absorbed carbon dioxide again, unused.
The amount of water needed for successful photosynthesis is only small. However, much larger amounts are required for the release of oxygen to happen. Stomata are tiny holes within the leaves, and the oxygen escapes through these holes when they evaporate water. If there is not enough water to transport all the waste to the leaves, the process of photosynthesis will produce much less oxygen.
Therefore, although lack of water is not necessarily a limiting factor when it comes to photosynthesis, it can certainly be an issue when it comes to the production of oxygen.
The way that trees produce oxygen can often be surprising to those who weren’t aware of the fact or those who thought that trees made oxygen for a purpose, rather than being a byproduct of their own growth and feeding. Yet once you do understand it, you can also understand just how vital trees are for the planet.
Once you then go on to realise that oxygen isn’t the only benefit that trees can offer the human race, it becomes even more interesting. There is so much to learn about trees, and so much they have to teach us; the more we know, the better life can be.