Oxygen is the most crucial support needed for life on earth. All the life forms on earth, depend directly or indirectly on oxygen. Oxygen is the most abundant element in the universe, most abundant in the earth’s crust, but second to Nitrogen in the atmosphere.
It is noteworthy that most of the oxygen is either in complex state or exists as compounds in the universe. Bare oxygen in the elemental state only accounts for one-third of the earth’s total abundance including the atmosphere, earth’s crust, and earth’s core.
- Oxygen Dissolved In Air
The earth’s atmosphere contains almost 21% of oxygen in its elemental state. And we all know that we breathe in oxygen. But not all of this oxygen is used for the respiratory purpose. The elemental oxygen present in the atmosphere helps maintain the temperature on the earth’s surface and also supports precipitation. In fact, the lighting promotes the ozone formation and water formation in the atmosphere. The water formed is brought to the earth’s surface in the form of rain. The ozone formed moves up in the atmosphere and forms a protective layer against the harmful UV radiation coming from the sun.
With the help of sunlight, elemental oxygen is titrated with nitrogen and carbon to form the basis of life forms. In the biology class in elementary school, we have studied that carbon and nitrogen are the building blocks of all life forms.
- Aquatic Ecosystem
Almost 90% of water is oxygen. But this oxygen is bonded with hydrogen and cannot be utilized by life forms. All the organisms require elemental oxygen to perform life functions such as digestion, absorption, fatigue recovery, etc. Similarly, for aquatic life as well, this elemental oxygen is important.
Water contains almost 1-2% dissolved elemental oxygen, also known as dissolved oxygen. Remember the biology class of high school. The percentage of dissolved oxygen in water varies with temperature and pressure. Notably, higher pressure and lower temperature are favorable for a higher percentage of dissolved oxygen in the water.
At the interface of water and atmosphere, the higher concentration of oxygen in the air promotes dissolution of oxygen into water, that has a comparatively low concentration. Having said that, a higher concentration of oxygen in water is also not favorable. This may lead to oxygen poisoning in the aquatic lifeforms. Thus maintaining a balance between the free and dissolved oxygen in the environment is very important.
- Ecological Balance
While oxygen is important for all the organisms, it is important for the ecology as well. Plants, which use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis and release oxygen, use oxygen for digesting the food produced. Strange, isn’t it? During the day, when the sun is bright, the plants make use of carbon dioxide to prepare the food and release oxygen in the atmosphere. But, during night plants absorb oxygen to breakdown the same food and digest it. The food is none other than glucose.
This cycle helps maintain a balance of elemental and combined oxygen in the environment. The question arises, why is this balance so important? While there are a plethora of life forms that exist on earth, and each and everyone is different, there needs to be a constant balance maintained between the resources for all needs.
This balance is not just crucial for life, but also for natural phenomena such as soil formation, temperature regulation, water formation, etc.
- Replenishing The Minerals
Coming to the land we stand upon, oxygen is the most abundant element in the earth’s crust. Most of the oxygen exists as silicates or silicones and forms the soil beneath our feet. Every element that exists on earth is found in the compound state which is later processed to refine for the desired element.
Oxides and oxalates are the most common types of compounds formed by other elements with oxygen. Through different natural processes, these elements are replenished in the earth’s crust with the help of oxygen.
Oxygen constitutes acids, bases, metal oxides, hydroxy compounds, sulphonates, and a few sulfates as well. All of these categories of chemicals and minerals are obtained from the earth and are fixed into the earth with the help of oxygen. Thus, oxygen also helps with replenishing the earth with minerals.
Oxygen is the spine for life in the universe. While the carbon and water are considered to be the most important contributors to the beginning of life on earth, it is oxygen that has helped sustain this life. There is no doubt about the significance of biological succession on oxygen.