Geeking Science: Trees and Oxygen

Image courtesy of prozac1 at

Ever have a Homer Simpson “d’oh” moment? I guess everyone has. I had a big one, like facepalm, “why did not I never realize?” moment while driving.

Everyone goes on and one about how important trees are to Earth’s oxygen cycle, protecting the Rain Forest, preventing clear cutting, all that jazz. And I’m driving along thinking, why are trees so important? I mean, any open green space is great, right? I could see lots going by at my perfectly legal 65 miles-an-hour set on cruise control. The highway had tons of grass on the central reservation between highway lanes and on the verge to my right. As far as the eye could see.

Then a tree pops up.


Three-D. Trees go up. Grass is just a little bit on the ground, but trees go up hundreds of feet in some cases.

That’s how trees win the best oxygen-producer prize. They simply have more surface area to work with. It’s not just “square foot”, but “cubic foot”. A 20 by 20 area produces 400 with grass, add 100 up (adjusted to 50, since trees are not quite as efficient) and suddenly it is 20,000.

Geometry applied to ecology.