Scaling Up, Using Plant Growth To Understand Climate Change

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In today’s world the planet has begun to increase in temperature. Climate Change has created new problems that humans have to face but with the help of plants we can slow down and negate the effects of global warming. All plants naturally take in CO2 and release Oxygen. This natural process can help because of the cooling effect that Oxygen gives off when in abundance as compared to the larger amounts of CO2 in the air.

Planet Earth has gone through many different ages over the years but none as powerful as the one of today. The planet has begun to heat up and is slowly changing from what it once was. Because of mankind’s use of fossil fuels the planet has an imbalance of Co2 in the atmosphere. This has caused many creatures to lose their habitats to rising sea levels, hotter climates, or inability to resist the rising temperatures. Researchers today are looking for ways to slow down and stop this process.

Today’s plants are all the descendants of an ancient green algae that was on the earth hundreds of millions of years ago. This alga was the only organism to swallow cyanobacteria which allowed it to produce its own energy. “According to the analysis of C. paradoxa’s genome of roughly 70 million base pairs, this capture must have occurred only once because most modern plants share the genes that make the merger of photosynthesizer and larger host cell possible.” A few million years later, 480 million years before current time, the first plants came about and began to spread over the planet. The plants that had evolved were bryophytes, followed by Pteridophytes, Gymnosperms, and lastly Angiosperms.

Plants have needs much like ours. All plants require light, water, air, nutrients, and a certain degree of temperature. Each of these needs differs widely among plant families. A plants ability to spread throughout an area is from millions of years of adaptation towards each environmental factor in said area. For example, water is important to many species; most species cannot live in desert regions because of lack of water and most cannot live in swamps because of excess water. Extreme temperatures stop plant growth, such as harsh winters, in many regions.

An organism’s ability to withstand cold temperatures is known as cold hardiness and plants that can’t handle cold weather are known as tender. Most of all the world’s plants use water to carry moisture and nutrients to and from the roots and leaves. Nutrients are normally taken up through the roots from the soil, this is why it’s important for plants to get water when soil becomes dry. Nitrogen is necessary for making green leaves, phosphorus is needed for making big flowers and strong roots, and potassium helps the plants fight off disease. Fresh air and healthy soil are also important towards plant development. Dirty air can be harmful to plants, limiting their ability to complete photosynthesis. Healthy soil provides an anchor for plant roots and helps support the plants.

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Carbon Dioxide is a dense gas in Earth’s atmosphere. It weighs 44.01 g/mol and is 60% more dense than the surrounding air. Generally CO2 can benefit plant growth by increasing their ability to photosynthesize. This increase in ability allows plants to grow larger earlier on in their life cycles because of the larger amounts of energy they can stockpile throughout the day. Although extra energy is beneficial any effect CO2 grants is negated without enough nitrogen in the soil with only certain domesticated plants benefitting in certain conditions. “But for most of the other plants humans eat — including wheat, rice and soybeans — ’having higher CO2 will help them directly,’ Moore says. Doubling CO2 from pre-industrial levels, she adds, does boost the productivity of crops like wheat by some 11.5 percent and of those such as corn by around 8.4 percent.” Plants obtain the gas they need through their leaves. They require oxygen for respiration and carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. The gases spread into spaces in the leaf through pores, which are normally on the bottom of the leaf. In order to continue with photosynthesis, green plants need carbon dioxide and a means of releasing of oxygen. For cellular respiration, plant cells need oxygen and a way to dispose of the carbon dioxide. If an imbalance of either occurs global climate change is but a possible outcome. With the releasing of carbon dioxide the animals in an ecosystem would die out but with the opposite many organisms would be poisoned from the excess oxygen. Plants help to keep the planet’s carbon levels in check which keeps all ecosystems running. “Climate change largely impacts ecosystem carbon and water cycles by changing plant gas exchange, which may further cause positive or negative feedback to global climate change.”

Harvested plants produce a change in mass because of the lack of water and other substances within them. An example of this is the Van Von Helmont experiment where dry soil had to be used to find results. Without harvesting first most values would come out incorrect and could distort any data taken. “The dry matter of a sample or of an object when completely dried (lacks or excluding water). Dry mass is a more reliable measure of mass than fresh mass because the former excludes the fluctuating water concentrations in the biological material measured which is present in the latter.” “Carbon emissions contribute to climate change, which can have serious consequences for humans and their environment. … The burning of fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. These carbon emissions raise global temperatures by trapping solar energy in the atmosphere.” Carbon is one of the main contributors towards global warming, one of the many problems we face today. The warming of the planet is the beginning of a long list of issues caused by the use of carbon based materials. As the planet warms, ice caps melt, fires can start in dry areas, and many species of animals die off as a direct result. As the main issue we face today its spiral effect cannot be ignored as every organism on the planet is affected by it, even plants.

Jan Von Helmont was a scientist who proved that trees didn’t eat the soil. He weighed a willow tree and weighed some soil. He planted the willow, watered and left it for 5 years. After a few years he weighed the willow and he had learned it increased in mass by 12 times its original weight. “He then re-weighed the tree, which had increased in mass by over 12 stone. He dried the soil and weighed it, showing that the soil was almost the same mass. He concluded that the tree grew by drinking water.” The photosynthesis process in plants into four stages, each occurring in an area of the chloroplast. These steps are the absorption of light, electron transport, generation of ATP, and conversion of CO2 into carbohydrates. The energy of the absorbed light removes electrons from the water, forming oxygen and then transfers the electrons to a primary electron acceptor. “Electrons move from the quinone primary electron acceptor through a chain of electron transport molecules in the thylakoid membrane until they reach the ultimate electron acceptor, usually NADP+, reducing it to NADPH… Protons move down their concentration gradient from the thylakoid lumen to the stroma through the F0F1 complex which couples proton movement to the synthesis of ATP from ADP and Pi…The ATP4− and NADPH generated by the second and third stages of photosynthesis provide the energy and the electrons to drive the synthesis of polymers of six-carbon sugars from CO2 and H2O.” The steps for cellular respiration are glycolysis, pyruvate oxidation, citric acid cycle, and lastly oxidative phosphorylation. In these reactions, ATP is made, converted into a two-carbon molecule bound to Coenzyme A, known as acetyl CoA,c ombines with a four-carbon molecule and goes through a cycle of reactions, ultimately regenerating the four-carbon molecules, electrons move down the chain, energy is released and used to pump protons out, towards the end of the electron transport chain oxygen accepts electrons and takes up protons to form water.

Conservation of energy is a principle that says energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed. An example of this is how your arms gets tired if you hold something too long or if you constantly play a piano. “This very expression which we use so fluently, ‘expenditure of force,’ which indicates that the force applied has been expended and lost, leads us to a further characteristic analogy…”. During the early 1800’s, James Prescott Joule discovered the mechanical equivalent in a set of experiments. In it, named the “Joule apparatus”, a descending weight attached to a string caused a paddle immersed in water to rotate. He showed that the gravitational energy lost by the weight in was equal to the energy gained by the water from friction with the paddle.

Climate change is generally known as the heating or cooling of the planet’s temperatures. Over a small period of time the planet has slowly began heating up and causing multiple issues around the world regardless of how subtle they are. As of today climate change can be attributed towards the use of fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, as well as the loss of plant life on the planet due to deforestation. The world is plagued by many issues such as melting ice in the arctic which is increasing the global sea level. “The loss of ice sheets in the arctic is having and will increasingly have adverse consequences for many species of marine mammals like polar bears, walruses, and ice seals. Warmer oceanic and riparian waters is resulting in increased marine diseases and invasive species, changes in weather systems, modifications in species distribution patterns, dead zones and coral bleaching.”

Plants have been a natural part of the world for millions upon millions of years. Their ability to take in CO2 and turn it into oxygen is one of the main reasons life is able to survive today. If plants can help cool the planet years ago then today, when we need a colder planet more than ever, should be the day we use plants to cool it once more, with climate change affecting everyone plants seem to be one of the few hopes we have left and it’s all due to an algae millions of years ago.

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