The Earth Has Lungs. Watch Them Breathe. – Phenomena: Curiously Krulwich

treesConsider the fantastic scale of this global dance. It starts, as I said, with 3.1 trillion trees. That’s the latest census, published a few months ago in the science journal Nature (see page 201) by Yale’s Thomas Crowther, a Climate and Energy Institute postdoctoral fellow. If he’s right, there are more trees on Earth than there are stars in the Milky Way.

Now imagine how many leaves might be on all those trees. It’s a very big number. The University of Washington tried to come up with a leaf count for a “mature oak,” but oaks are so variable that they could only give us a range: 200,000 to half a million leaves per tree.

Next, look closely at any oak leaf or any leaf (or, for that matter, the surface of any green plant, even a blade of grass) with a magnifying glass. You’ll find little breathing tubes called stomata. That’s “mouth” in Greek, because, like mouths, they’re openings that allow outside air in.

I think of them more like lungs, often with squeezable openings. That’s where the carbon dioxide gets in and the oxygen slips out. Photographer Robert Dash used a scanning electron microscope to magnify the surface of an actual oak leaf 150 times, and all those little cheerio-like openings you see here? We’re going to point a few out …

via The Earth Has Lungs. Watch Them Breathe. – Phenomena: Curiously Krulwich


About marypmadigan

Writer/photographer (profession), foreign policy wonk (hobby).
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