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Earth Mass Increasing? Photons and Photosynthesis making more matter on earth?

by nicholasmelas
Tags: earth, mass, photon, photosynthesis, sustainability
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nicholasmelas
#1
Oct12-10, 02:25 PM
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This is a question for whoever is out there.

Is the earths mass ever increasing? I understand that under the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the Earth is a closed system, ie it exchanges energy with its environment, but not matter.

So, my question is, if sunlight energy is constantly radiating onto the Earth, and plants transform that energy into matter, wouldn't it follow that the earth is constantly gaining mass?

This idea is also informed by something I read from the food systems writer, Michael Pollan, called "Pumpkins Leave No Holes." It was about how, if you take 50 lbs. of soil and plant a pumpkin seed in it, and lets say the pumpkin grows to 50 lbs. also. If you took everything that grew out of the seed, the salk, the leaves, the stem and the pumpkin, and you weighed the soil, it would still weigh 50 lbs.

What's more, if you ate the edible parts of the pumpkin, and composted the inedible parts, you would produce MORE soil, making this process more than sustainable. Its actually constantly growing.

Is this correct? Is the earth gaining mass? Is our gravitational pull increasing slightly because of it? Does it matter?

love,
Nick
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diazona
#2
Oct12-10, 03:00 PM
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Plants don't actually transform the Sun's energy into matter. They transform it into a different kind of energy (chemical bonds). Besides, the Earth is not a closed system. It exchanges matter in both directions with its environment.

What you've read from Michael Pollan seems like complete nonsense. I doubt that a pumpkin could grow in as little as 50 pounds of soil, but if it could, the weight of the pumpkin plus the final weight of the soil would equal the original 50 lb. plus the weight of any water or plant food etc. that you had added over the course of the pumpkin's growth.
willem2
#3
Oct12-10, 03:06 PM
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Quote Quote by diazona View Post

What you've read from Michael Pollan seems like complete nonsense. I doubt that a pumpkin could grow in as little as 50 pounds of soil, but if it could, the weight of the pumpkin plus the final weight of the soil would equal the original 50 lb. plus the weight of any water or plant food etc. that you had added over the course of the pumpkin's growth.
And of cource there is the carbon from the co2.

DaveC426913
#4
Oct12-10, 03:13 PM
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Earth Mass Increasing? Photons and Photosynthesis making more matter on earth?

Quote Quote by diazona View Post
Besides, the Earth is not a closed system. It exchanges matter in both directions with its environment.
Ah but in a thought experiment, it could be.

Let's posit a transparent massless shell that passes energy but not matter.

Alas, it still wouldn't make Earth grow.

Sunlight could enter and do lots of chemically interesting things, but ultimately it would be re-radiated in infrared.
giles123
#5
Oct12-10, 04:06 PM
P: 2
the earth does gain mass. about 35000000 kg per year. but this is due to debre from space being pulled into the earths atmosphere
Sakha
#6
Oct12-10, 04:10 PM
P: 295
Quote Quote by diazona View Post
What you've read from Michael Pollan seems like complete nonsense. I doubt that a pumpkin could grow in as little as 50 pounds of soil, but if it could, the weight of the pumpkin plus the final weight of the soil would equal the original 50 lb. plus the weight of any water or plant food etc. that you had added over the course of the pumpkin's growth.
Actually, plants gets most of their mass from water and CO2, they just get a little ammount of nutrient from the soil. Jan Baptist van Helmont did this experiment long ago, weighing the soil before planting a tree, and a couple years later, the soil weighed almost exactly the same.

Plants use Sun's energy to change all this H2O and CO2, and some Nitrogen and other nutrients (from soil), to the gazillions of organic compounds that make up a plant.
berkeman
#7
Oct12-10, 04:39 PM
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Quote Quote by giles123 View Post
the earth does gain mass. about 35000000 kg per year. but this is due to debre from space being pulled into the earths atmosphere
Could you please post a source for that number? Thanks.
D H
#8
Oct12-10, 05:16 PM
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Quote Quote by berkeman View Post
Could you please post a source for that number? Thanks.
Three recent estimates, listed in decreasing mass order:

1.7108 kg/year
Ceplecha, Z. (1992), "Influx of interplanetary bodies onto earth", Astronomy and Astrophysics:263 http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1992A%26A...263..361C

1.5108 kg/year
Ceplecha, Z. (1996), "Luminous efficiency based on photographic observations of the Lost City fireball and implications for the influx of interplanetary bodies onto Earth", Astronomy and Astrophysics:311 http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1996A%26A...311..329C

40106 kg/year
Love, S. and Brownlee, D. (1993), "A Direct Measurement of the Terrestrial Mass Accretion Rate of Cosmic Dust", Science:262(5133) http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1993Sci...262..550L
berkeman
#9
Oct12-10, 05:19 PM
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Thanks DH.
AJ_2010
#10
Oct13-10, 04:16 PM
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Earth also loses masses from escape velocity high altitude atmosphere molecules....does it not?
No idea if its a significant amount though.
pervect
#11
Oct13-10, 07:05 PM
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If you look at the solar constant of about 1400 watts/ m^2, and multiply it by the cross sectional area of the earth, pi r^2, you get about 10^17 watts or 2 kg/ second * c^2.

But, most of this is re-radiated, though I"m not sure offhand to figure out how much. And in any event, it's still lower than the above figures being only 6*10^7 kg/year total influx.
D H
#12
Oct13-10, 07:45 PM
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Quote Quote by pervect View Post
But, most of this is re-radiated
All (almost all) of it is re-radiated.
Sakha
#13
Oct13-10, 09:40 PM
P: 295
It's reradiated, but with a lower frequency, meaning less energy and so the Earth gained this energy difference as mass.
Dickfore
#14
Oct13-10, 09:42 PM
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There are photons leaving the Earth, you know.
pervect
#15
Oct14-10, 12:37 AM
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Quote Quote by D H View Post
All (almost all) of it is re-radiated.
I'd agree that almost all of it is re-radiated, but particularly in the case of photosynthesis, I think it's reasonable to assume some very small fraction is not re-radiated. I'm not sure how to estimate how much is not, unfortunately.
D H
#16
Oct14-10, 06:47 AM
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Quote Quote by pervect View Post
I'd agree that almost all of it is re-radiated, but particularly in the case of photosynthesis, I think it's reasonable to assume some very small fraction is not re-radiated. I'm not sure how to estimate how much is not, unfortunately.
Those plants will eventually die and decay. Compost piles can get quite warm because biomass decay is an exothermic process. A very, very tiny amount of that biomass will be sequestered in bogs, river deltas, etc. However, the same plate tectonic processes that truly sequester partially decayed biomass eventually re-expose that stuff to the environment. Sans human activity, the net has to be so extremely close to zero as to be immeasurable.

If anything, I would argue that the amount of outgoing radiation slightly exceeds the amount of incoming radiation from the Sun. The Earth is still cooling from its initial formation 4.6 billion years ago and radioactive decay is still producing heat deep within the Earth. The Earth's surface is heated from above by sunlight and from below by the Earth's mantle and core. The Earth's surface temperature would observably increase were there any substantial imbalance between the total incoming heat transfer rate and the total outgoing heat transfer rate. The increase would continue until the Earth's surface reaches some equilibrium temperature where the heat balance is zero.
DaveC426913
#17
Oct14-10, 08:46 AM
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Quote Quote by Sakha View Post
It's reradiated, but with a lower frequency, meaning less energy
While true...
Quote Quote by Sakha View Post
and so the Earth gained this energy difference as mass.
...this does not follow. Unless you plan on insisting that the exact number of photons being reradiated is no more than the exact number being absorbed.

The Earth will reradiate as much energy as required for it to reach equilibrium. That could be lots more low-energy photons radiated than high energy photons absorbed.
D H
#18
Oct14-10, 09:18 AM
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Quote Quote by DaveC426913 View Post
...this does not follow. Unless you plan on insisting that the exact number of photons being reradiated is no more than the exact number being absorbed.
... and if that were the case the Earth's surface would rather quickly warm to 5780 K or so.


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