How Do Plants Sequester Carbon?
It's impossible to overstate the generosity of plants and everything they give to us. The food we eat, the materials we use, the landscapes we admire, and of course, the oxygen we breathe. Yet there's another important role they play that often goes unappreciated: photosynthesis and their ability to sequester carbon.
Over millennia plants have played a major role in sequestering carbon and regulating our earth's climate. By taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, they've modulated our planet's temperatures in a way that our species finds hospitable and enables civilisations to flourish. Plants do this through the process of photosynthesis which is fundamental to life on our planet.
How Carbon Sequestration Works
The concept of carbon sequestration is simple. Plants take CO2 out of the atmosphere, incorporate it into their tissues, and the elemental carbon (previously within the CO2) becomes organic carbon. Organic carbon is not only what plants are primarily composed of but also all living things, including ourselves.
In this form, carbon is sequestered and no longer influences our climate as a greenhouse gas. Carbon may be sequestered as plant tissues, but it may also become incorporated into other living organisms which consume the plants. Alternatively, carbon can be incorporated into soils as a fine particle known as humus.
In soils, sequestered carbon plays a crucial role in plant health. It holds moisture, nutrients and promotes the presence of beneficial microorganisms. Organic carbon helps soil acquire the desired texture growth.
Plants Sequester Carbon Through Photosynthesis
The process of photosynthesis is what allows plants to absorb atmospheric CO2 and harness energy from the sun. In fact, CO2 is one of the most important things plants need for photosynthesis and proper growth.
The process of photosynthesis is simple. Plants take CO2, water, and energy from sunlight to make the simple sugar glucose.
Simply put, carbon dioxide and water are transformed with the sun's energy into glucose and oxygen. Oxygen is released as a gas into the atmosphere while glucose is incorporated into the plant. Although glucose is just a simple sugar, it forms the base for many complex molecules like sucrose, cellulose, lignin, starches, and much of the biomass that exists in the natural world.