How trees improve the earth’s atmosphere

It is almost impossible to imagine our fertile planet basking in the Sun’s heat, stripped bare of trees. Life would struggle to exist in such unfavorable atmospheric conditions; our familiar ecosystems becoming irreparably unbalanced. There is a finite balance between global diversity and nurturing the Earth’s valuable assets; plants, trees and shrubs, both on-land and within our oceans (in the form of seaweed).

All year round, trees extend a lifeline to a host of species; mammals, birds, reptiles, insects, bacteria, fungi; in fact any organism, which requires oxygen for respiration falls into this category.

Our unique planet Earth has facilitated the emergence of such a varied populous through several factors; an ability to retain an atmosphere, a water supply (seas, rivers, ice and vapour), the correct balance of atmospheric gases, a temperate climate and a stable land mass. Trees contribute to the majority of these categories; adjusting the oxygen and carbon dioxide levels within the atmosphere, a reduction of the global warming effect, stabilising loose soils and volcanic ash, reducing the risk of flooding, and also by stabilising the climate. Each of these will be discussed in turn.

Green plants produce oxygen, an essential commodity for virtually all life forms on the planet (excepting a few anaerobic micro-organisms). This occurs in the chloroplasts within leaves in a process known as photosynthesis. The chloroplasts contain a green pigment, chlorophyll, which synthesises hydrocarbons for the plant’s growth requirements in the presence of four factors: sunlight, carbon dioxide, water and heat. Oxygen is a waste product of this process, and is librated in high amounts: the more leaves there are on a tree, the more oxygen will be released if the four factor conditions are met. During darkness the opposite reaction occurs, slowly; carbon dioxide is liberated as the plant cells utilise the synthesised hydrocarbons and oxygen. As a tree grows, more carbon dioxide is absorbed than released to the atmosphere (the residue is locked up as plant material).

Carbon dioxide is referred to as a greenhouse gas, since it has the ability to absorb infrared energy from sunlight entering our atmosphere, which caused the bond between the carbon and oxygen atoms to vibrate vigorously (thus trapping this energy in our atmosphere). It is the trapping of this infra-red energy that causes our planet to retain heat (which would otherwise be reflected back from the planet surface into space). This does have advantages we need to maintain a set temperature to allow life forms to exist, and for the water in our oceans to remain liquefied; too hot, and it evaporates; too cold, and it freezes. Trees help to reduce the scorching temperatures that a bare planet could be exposed to, by absorbing the excess carbon dioxide that would make our air un-breathable, but still allowing a temperate atmosphere to be maintained.

Tree logging in the Amazon rain forest and other strategic forests worldwide has already produced visible effects in our climatic conditions; global temperatures are rising faster now than at any time in the Earth’s recorded history, owing to excessive carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, which also has caused huge ice-caps to melt. We are all indirectly responsible for addressing this issue. The excess carbon dioxide is a result of burning trees, and the resulting deficit in the number of trees available to remove the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. This affects the air that you and I breathe (irrespective of our location), and has a huge impact on climate imbalance, as seen by the catastrophic flooding that planet Earth has experienced in recent years. Burning fossil fuels has also contributed to this condition.

Trees contribute to the water cycle too; rain falls when the temperature falls (over cooler tree-clad areas), thus producing conditions conducive to vegetation growth. This is an essential condition for all forms of life to prosper. Tree roots also contribute to ground stability, by binding loose soils, and absorbing excess water. Decomposed leaves and dead wood produce fertile soils, promoting further plant nutrients.

Can you imagine life without trees? To ensure biodiversity we each need to respect the greenery abundant in our habitat, and reduce the catastrophic impact that tree-felling has already had on the future of our precious planet. Young trees grow more rapidly than old trees, making forest management and tree replacement a sensible option as a renewable energy option for the future. Perhaps you are a responsible person, and will make it you mission to plant a tree, thus helping to repair our sensitive atmosphere.