Filed under: Global Warming | Tags: biology, Carbon, carbon dioxide, clouds, ecology, Global Warming, soil, trees, van Helmont, wye oak
My wife and I were recently discussing the weight of the Wye Oak. It turns out it weighed over 30 tons1. I knew all of that mass had to come from somewhere, and thinking that most of the mass of the tree came from the surrounding soil, I was wondering if there was a huge depression around the tree as the tree “ate up” the soil as it grew. My wife corrected me and pointed out that most of a tree’s mass comes not from the soil, but from the atmosphere.
About 400 years ago a Flemish guy named Jan Baptista van Helmont also wondered where a tree’s mass came from. So he planted a small tree in 200 pounds of soil. The tree gained 164 pounds, but the soil only lost two ounces!
It turns out that most of a tree’s mass is carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen. It gets the carbon from the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the oxygen and hydrogen from water. So in terms of my twisted logic:
- The vast majority of a tree’s mass comes from the air (carbon dioxide) and water (rain).
- Clouds are made of air and rain.
- Therefore, trees are made of clouds!
So what does this have to do with you? Well, go plant a tree in your back yard. It will pull some of the carbon dioxide out of the air. Tired of raking leaves? Hire a neighborhood kid to rake the leaves for you. Don’t cut the tree down; it’s not worth the carbon (and financial) cost! And don’t throw dirt in the air. It might combine with a passing cloud and instantly turn into a tree.
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