It is not uncommon to hear, during a conversation about ecology, that forests are the lungs of our planet and that it is urgent to preserve them. Basically, the statement is true, but what do we really mean by “lungs of our planet”?
Understanding that trees are important elements of our ecosystem is something acquired by many people in our society. However, it is interesting to explain here how they are. Do they really bring new air to our atmosphere? What does this mean for us and global warming?
To answer this, we will have to look at the mechanism of trees and seek the truth at the heart of their leaves and their roots.
Trees are producing oxygen
For a tree to produce oxygen, it needs sunlight, carbon dioxide, soil minerals and water. It will absorb these, synthesize them in order to extract the nutrients it needs, then release oxygen and energy-rich carbon molecules into the air.
This oxygen (also known under the pseudonym O2) will subsequently be consumed by living beings through respiration.
This process is photosynthesis. Photosynthesis has existed for billions of years and the synthesis process has not changed one bit!
Photosynthesis in trees, what is it ?
To understand how trees produce oxygen, we will have to go back to our primary school books, where there were multiple diagrams representing the process.
A tree, as we have seen in our previous articles, needs water, minerals and light to develop. With the help of these, it will create a more robust trunk, thicker branches and leaves in shades of green. But how does it actually develop? What is the role of photosynthesis in this process?
Photosynthesis is the synthesis of organic elements ingested by the tree through its roots (water, minerals) and its leaves (sun rays, carbon dioxide, otherwise called CO2). The
term “photosynthesis” itself means “synthesis of light”. As a result, most of the latter process is carried out using the sun's rays.
A tree needs several ingredients to be able to produce oxygen. Here is the list:
- 6 carbon dioxide molecules
- 12 water molecules
- 12 molecules of light
- 6 molecules of dioxygen
Mix all the ingredients well, bake overnight and you will obtain 6 molecules of water! Without these important ingredients, photosynthesis cannot occur.
Here is the exact equation for photosynthesis: 6 CO2 + 12 H2O + light → C6H12O6 + 6 O2 + 6 H2O.
6 CO2 + 12 H2O + light → C6H12O6 + 6 O2 + 6 H2O
But where does the oxygen in trees come from?
From their leaves! Well, more precisely, the chlorophyll contained in the leaves of the tree. Chlorophyll is the green pigment contained in leaves. It is what makes it possible to capture the sun's rays and synthesize them to create energy.
The process involves two phases of synthesis. One that occurs using light, we call the photochemical phase, and one that does not require light, we call the non-photochemical phase. It is this second phase that interests us because it is during this last phase that the tree synthesizes CO2 and releases water and oxygen.
It is because the tree sucks in carbon dioxide that the atmosphere is purified. Indeed, CO2 is one of the main gases causing the greenhouse effect on our planet. Therefore, the more trees we plant and preserve, the more the air is purified!
The role of trees on a global scale
Trees allow many living beings to feed themselves and protect themselves from predators since they have nooks and crannies within their trunks and roots offering a safe refuge for small animals.
In addition to these important aspects, trees help purify and recycle the air we breathe. They are not the only beings capable of doing this, some algae use the same process, but they are major players in purifying the air we breathe.
Therefore, it is important to plant as many as possible and preserve existing ones. Without it, the air we breathe will become even less breathable and polluted and temperatures caused by the greenhouse effect will continue to rise. Remember that it is alarming to experience temperatures exceeding 30°C in October.
So dear readers, I challenge you to try the Run for Planet adventure! And this challenge is simple, try with your children, your friends or your partners to plant a tree seed (acorn, chestnut, hazelnut, apple tree...) and make it germinate! You'll see how rewarding it is to watch the process of creating a tree! And if you don't have the space to keep it at home, take part in the many tree planting activities, carried out by associations, not far from your home...
What about Run for Planet ?
This fall, the association is beginning its planting tests of different trees in its 20,000 m2 nursery! A gradual increase in power, until 2 to 3 million seeds are
planted each year, in order to meet the demand from tree-planting associations and communities.
Several volunteers will be requested to plant quality seeds (hazel, sessile oak, Atlas cedar, etc.), carefully chosen, on our 3 plots of 700 m2 each. To find out more, do not hesitate to read the different articles on the trees in our nursery as well as those on the different projects in our nursery!
We want to provide a better world for future generations and we believe that starts with planting a seed. Plant the seed of an ecological idea in people's minds, but above all, plant the seed of a tree that will allow a healthier future for future generations.
Article written by Claire Moreau, editor for Run for Planet.