How a Tree’s Breath Literally Cleans the Planet

As if trees couldn’t get any cooler, we can now witness how their breath helps nourish our world.

Mother Nature never ceases to amaze us with her potential for beauty. Most of us can recognize the power of plant, whether it nourishes us with fruit or simply provide a breath of light.

But a new video from NASA reveals the dramatic effect leaves have on cleansing our planet. It’s a big task, but we’ve got a ton of trees. According to National Geographic, we have 3.1 trillion trees on our planet, which means 422 tree per person. When all of these trees work together, the visual effect NASA has documented rivals anything would see in any art museum.

When watching the video, it’s important to consider the seasons. The time of year, and thus the temperature, will have a dramatic influence on how trees will effect the environment. In the spring an summer, we have more leaves, and the trees can do more work. Sometime around June, the trillions of leaves on these trillions of trees begin to open and grow. When alive and thriving, these trees absorb carbon dioxide, store it within their trunks, and then release oxygen back into the environment. The other seasons create just as substantial of an effect; when leaves fall from the trees in the chillier months, more carbon dioxide is left to permeate the air.

NASA’s video tracks the flow of carbon dioxide moving across the planet. It begins in January, and carries out of the course of 12 months, but compresses everything into just a few minutes. In watching the video, you’ll notice that the most movement occurs in the Northern Hemisphere, as that’s where the most temperate forests are located.

You can also notice the presence of various greenhouse emissions wafting throughout our planet. When the summer months strike, and the trees are most active, the pollutants begin to disappear. The trees are practically scrubbing the earth clean. From NASA’s video:

During the spring and summer in the Northern Hemisphere, plants absorb a substantial amount of carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, thus removing some of the gas from the atmosphere. We see this in the model, as the red and purple colors begin to fade.

You check it out for yourself below.

Other pollutants, like carbon monoxide, are also streaming into the environment. Carbon monoxide is especially prevalent in the summer months as a result of wildfires within Africa, Australia, and South America.  The video reveals that these emissions don’t just stay in one place; high winds carry them throughout the entire planet.

As the video moves forward into the fall and winter months, when the trees are beginning to lose their leaves, we see that the carbon monoxide is more inclined to stick around. And while some of this is normal, the numbers revealing the presence of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide are increasing each year. This heats the earth and contributes to climate change.

But the trees are proving themselves as international superstars. Without them, we would have even more pollutants poisoning our natural environment. Which is why it might actually be a pretty good idea to throw them some respect.

On an even smaller scale, the breathing occurs in the most microscopic parts of a leaf. These little breathing tubes are called the stomata, meaning “mouth” in Greek. The name is quite suitable, because like most mouths, the stomata is responsible for bringing in air. There are hundreds of stomatas on just one leaf.

From National Geographic:

If we multiply all those leafy lungs times all those leaves times all those trees and add grasses into the bargain, we’re talking about an unimaginably vast planetary breathing system—a giant green machine that pulls enormous quantities of carbon dioxide out of the air, especially in the warmer months.

That’s what the NASA video shows us: We can see the Green Machine turning on, then, a few months later, turning off. When it’s on, when the leaves are out, those ugly, poisonous-looking swirls of orange and red vanish from the sky. The machine works. And this happens every year. It’s as though the Earth itself has lungs.

Trees aren’t just on this planet to provide shade, nourishment, and a pack of looseleaf paper. Their breath literally cleans out planet. We need their help, and they need ours.


Amanda Kohr is a 25-year-old writer and photographer with a penchant for yoga, food, and travel.  She prefers to bathe in the moonlight rather than the sun, and enjoys living in a state of the three C’s: cozy, creative, and curious. When she’s not writing, you can find her driving her VW Bug, looking for the next roadside attraction or family diner. She also roams the internet at and through Instagram.