How Do People and Animals Breathe in the Arctic?

When you think about the Arctic, what do you imagine? For many, the Arctic is simply a vast area of ice and snow with very little life.

However, there are individuals and numerous animals that call the Arctic their home. Many of these animals, from lemmings and ground squirrels to musk oxen and polar bears, have adapted well to their cold environment.

Surviving the cold temperatures is one challenge, but some of our Wonder Friends have been curious about how people and animals in the Arctic breathe. After all, there aren’t many trees in the Arctic to produce the oxygen necessary for breathing.

It is true that there aren’t many trees in the Arctic. The Arctic’s conditions, such as low temperatures, strong winds, and limited rainfall and sunlight, make it difficult for trees to grow.

The point at which trees are unable to grow is known as the treeline. In fact, some scientists use the treeline as a marker for where the Arctic begins.

It is also true that trees produce oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. Scientists estimate that there are approximately three trillion trees on Earth. When you consider all the shrubs, grasses, and other plants that also produce oxygen through photosynthesis, it amounts to a significant amount of oxygen.

Oxygen makes up about 21% of Earth’s atmosphere. However, only about half of that oxygen comes from trees, shrubs, grasses, and plants. Fortunately for the living beings in the Arctic, the other half comes from the world’s oceans.

Once again, photosynthesis is the process responsible for generating oxygen. However, instead of trees, oxygen is produced in the oceans by microscopic single-celled organisms called phytoplankton.

Phytoplankton forms the foundation of the oceanic food pyramid. Essentially, every living creature in the sea owes its existence to these tiny organisms that live on or near the ocean’s surface.

Phytoplankton absorbs nutrients from the ocean water and energy from the Sun. They convert these nutrients and carbon dioxide into organic compounds that create new plant material. In the process, they release oxygen into the water.

While many scientists claim that phytoplankton produce about half of Earth’s oxygen, others believe it may be closer to 70-80%. Considering that around 71% of Earth’s surface is covered by oceans, it is possible that phytoplankton are responsible for more than half of our oxygen supply.

Give It a Try

Take a deep breath and then ask a friend or family member to help you explore the following activities:

  • If you want to improve the world, consider planting a tree. The planet always needs more trees because they provide numerous benefits to humans, including a portion of the oxygen we need to breathe. Take a look at the Tree Planting Activity online and dedicate some time to planting a tree with a friend or family member. You will not regret it!
  • When was the last time you expressed gratitude to a tree? Invite a friend or family member to join you for a hike in a nearby park. Embrace the outdoors and enjoy some fresh air. Take deep breaths and show appreciation to the trees around you for supplying the oxygen that allows you to live. Select a tree to study more about. Capture pictures of it and later research it online.
  • Curious about how plants generate the oxygen we require for respiration? Gain knowledge by conducting the Creating Oxygen science experiment online. You only need a few basic materials to understand how plants utilize sunlight to produce the necessary food and oxygen for our breathing.

Valuable Sources



1. How do plants contribute to the oxygen supply on Earth?

Plants play a crucial role in producing oxygen through a process called photosynthesis. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and, with the help of sunlight, convert it into oxygen and glucose. This oxygen is then released back into the air, providing us with the essential element required for respiration.

2. Can you survive in an environment without trees?

Yes, it is possible to survive in an environment without trees. While trees are the primary source of oxygen, other plants such as grasses, shrubs, and algae also contribute to the oxygen supply. Additionally, oxygen is constantly being replenished through photosynthesis in bodies of water, including oceans and lakes.

3. How does deforestation affect the availability of oxygen?

Deforestation has a significant impact on the availability of oxygen. When trees are cut down or burned, the process of photosynthesis is disrupted, leading to a decrease in oxygen production. Additionally, deforestation increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, further contributing to global warming and climate change.

4. Are there any alternative sources of oxygen besides plants?

While plants are the primary source of oxygen, there are alternative sources that contribute to the oxygen supply. Algae, for example, produce a significant amount of oxygen through photosynthesis. Additionally, bodies of water, such as oceans and lakes, contain dissolved oxygen that is essential for aquatic life and can contribute to the overall oxygen levels in the atmosphere.

5. How does air pollution affect the ability to breathe in areas without trees?

Air pollution can have detrimental effects on the ability to breathe in areas without trees. Trees act as natural filters, absorbing pollutants from the air and releasing clean oxygen. Without trees, air pollution levels can increase, leading to respiratory difficulties and other health issues. It is important to address air pollution and promote reforestation efforts to ensure a healthy environment.

6. How can you improve air quality in areas without trees?

To improve air quality in areas without trees, several measures can be taken. Implementing strict regulations on industrial emissions and promoting cleaner energy sources can help reduce air pollution. Additionally, creating green spaces with plants and vegetation can act as natural air purifiers. Indoor air filters and proper ventilation systems can also help improve air quality in buildings and enclosed spaces.

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