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Name: Heather
Status: student
Grade: 9-12
Location: GA
Country: N/A
Date: 3/15/2005

Can plants survive in pure carbon dioxide?

Seeds should survive, but germinating and growing plants so require oxygen (usually at night) for respiration and growth.

Anthony Brach

No. While plants take up carbon dioxide and give off oxygen in photosynthesis, they must also use oxygen during respiration, in order to live and grow.

J. Elliott

This is a complicated question: The easy part is -- a plant would not do well in pure CO2 because the CO2 would dissolve in water making carbonic acid. This would make the soil and air too acidic, i.e. the pH would decrease a couple of powers of 10 and the plant would likely not survive.

Having said that, SOME plants do grow faster when the level of CO2 is increased from its ambient concentration of about 350 parts per million (by volume) to say 600 parts per million. This acceleration in growth does not apply to all plants.

As you probably know, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is an issue in global warming. The level of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing. Some scientists believe that the "average global temperature" is also increasing, and they attribute the temperature increase directly to the increasing level of CO2. This conclusion is not accepted by other scientists. They argue that an "average global temperature" is meaningless, because the temperature varies so much with time of day, location, season, altitude, and on and on. In addition, they argue that CO2 is part of a non-linear feedback web involving the land, oceans, atmosphere, plant cover, etc. The puzzle is that the increase in the level of atmospheric CO2 is only a fraction of the amount of CO2 generated by humans, so where did it go?

My opinion, strictly mine, is that the level of atmospheric CO2 is part of a complex interaction of sources and sinks and we do not understand the robustness of the feedback connections. So it is an oversimplification, and maybe an important one, to say the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is the direct result of burning hydrocarbons. The real world is much more complicated.

Vince Calder

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