A study from the University of New Mexico has discovered that plants use a massive amount of fresh water in their lifetimes; something which has severe implications for climate models.
According to research by doctorate student Scott Jasechko at the University of New Mexico, fresh water as used by plants, accounts for the largest movement of fresh water on the planet. In total, the movement caused by plants is more than one and a half times of that which is caused by rivers, and the water released into the atmosphere by plants is more than five times greater than the water which naturally evaporates on land through heat.
“The study is important because it suggests research should focus on water transport in plants when assessing the availability of fresh water in a future, warming climate in order to better predict how much water will be available for drinking water, manufacturing and food production," said Jasechko.
Ah, plants: nature's sprinklers.
The research was conducted by observing isotopes of oxygen and hydrogen in bodies of water. These isotopes store information on how they were formed, whether through evaporation, or the plants’ “breathing process” known as transpiration. The research indicated that collectively, plants on earth transpire about 10 Amazon rivers’ worth of flow per year.
As carbon dioxide is processed and taken in as the plants transpire water out, Jasechko was able to use existing satellite data on CO2 levels to verify his claim. Indeed, the results of the research are in agreement with the carbon dioxide data.
"This study acknowledges the importance of plant life in controlling the amount of precipitation that ends up in our rivers," continues Jasechko, pointing out how nearly every aspect of our lives, from food and shelter to manufacturing, on some level depends on fresh water. This means our changing climate actually requires that we keep as much watch over the health of earth’s flora, as we do on our emissions.