How does transpiration help in sucking water up?

How does transpiration help in sucking water up?

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How can transpiration help in sucking water up as the amount of water that is sucked up by the evaporation of water equals to the amount of water evaporated. (Correct me if I am wrong). Then how it helps?

The benefit is not in taking up more water but in transporting the things that water contains.

Plants rely on bulk transport in water flowing though specialized tissue (xylem), somewhat analogous to blood flow in an animal. Water flows through the xylem using capillary action; when water is lost at the top, capillary action pulls water into the vacated space and the flow continues down the entire height of the plant. Water removed for other uses like photosynthesis also contributes, but transpiration is important for many plants to increase the flow rate.

How do large trees, such as redwoods, get water from their roots to the leaves?

"Water is often the most limiting factor to plant growth. Therefore, plants have developed an effective system to absorb, translocate, store and utilize water. To understand water transport in plants, one first needs to understand the plants' plumbing. Plants contain a vast network of conduits, which consists of xylem and phloem tissues. This pathway of water and nutrient transport can be compared with the vascular system that transports blood throughout the human body. Like the vascular system in people, the xylem and phloem tissues extend throughout the plant. These conducting tissues start in the roots and transect up through the trunks of trees, branching off into the branches and then branching even further into every leaf.

"The phloem tissue is made of living elongated cells that are connected to one another. Phloem tissue is responsible for translocating nutrients and sugars (carbohydrates), which are produced by the leaves, to areas of the plant that are metabolically active (requiring sugars for energy and growth). The xylem is also composed of elongated cells. Once the cells are formed, they die. But the cell walls still remain intact, and serve as an excellent pipeline to transport water from the roots to the leaves. A single tree will have many xylem tissues, or elements, extending up through the tree. Each typical xylem vessel may only be several microns in diameter.

"The physiology of water uptake and transport is not so complex either. The main driving force of water uptake and transport into a plant is transpiration of water from leaves. Transpiration is the process of water evaporation through specialized openings in the leaves, called stomates. The evaporation creates a negative water vapor pressure develops in the surrounding cells of the leaf. Once this happens, water is pulled into the leaf from the vascular tissue, the xylem, to replace the water that has transpired from the leaf. This pulling of water, or tension, that occurs in the xylem of the leaf, will extend all the way down through the rest of the xylem column of the tree and into the xylem of the roots due to the cohesive forces holding together the water molecules along the sides of the xylem tubing. (Remember, the xylem is a continuous water column that extends from the leaf to the roots.) Finally, the negative water pressure that occurs in the roots will result in an increase of water uptake from the soil.

"Now if transpiration from the leaf decreases, as usually occurs at night or during cloudy weather, the drop in water pressure in the leaf will not be as great, and so there will be a lower demand for water (less tension) placed on the xylem. The loss of water from a leaf (negative water pressure, or a vacuum) is comparable to placing suction to the end of a straw. If the vacuum or suction thus created is great enough, water will rise up through the straw. If you had a very large diameter straw, you would need more suction to lift the water. Likewise, if you had a very narrow straw, less suction would be required. This correlation occurs as a result of the cohesive nature of water along the sides of the straw (the sides of the xylem). Because of the narrow diameter of the xylem tubing, the degree of water tension, (vacuum) required to drive water up through the xylem can be easily attained through normal transpiration rates that often occur in leaves."

Alan Dickman is curriculum director in the biology department at the University of Oregon in Eugene. He offers the following answer to this oft-asked question:

"Once inside the cells of the root, water enters into a system of interconnected cells that make up the wood of the tree and extend from the roots through the stem and branches and into the leaves. The scientific name for wood tissue is xylem it consists of a few different kinds of cells. The cells that conduct water (along with dissolved mineral nutrients) are long and narrow and are no longer alive when they function in water transport. Some of them have open holes at their tops and bottoms and are stacked more or less like concrete sewer pipes. Other cells taper at their ends and have no complete holes. All have pits in their cell walls, however, through which water can pass. Water moves from one cell to the next when there is a pressure difference between the two.

"Because these cells are dead, they cannot be actively involved in pumping water. It might seem possible that living cells in the roots could generate high pressure in the root cells, and to a limited extent this process does occur. But common experience tells us that water within the wood is not under positive pressure--in fact, it is under negative pressure, or suction. To convince yourself of this, consider what happens when a tree is cut or when a hole is drilled into the stem. If there were positive pressure in the stem, you would expect a stream of water to come out, which rarely happens.

"In reality, the suction that exists within the water-conducting cells arises from the evaporation of water molecules from the leaves. Each water molecule has both positive and negative electrically charged parts. As a result, water molecules tend to stick to one another that adhesion is why water forms rounded droplets on a smooth surface and does not spread out into a completely flat film. As one water molecule evaporates through a pore in a leaf, it exerts a small pull on adjacent water molecules, reducing the pressure in the water-conducting cells of the leaf and drawing water from adjacent cells. This chain of water molecules extends all the way from the leaves down to the roots and even extends out from the roots into the soil. So the simple answer to the question about what propels water from the roots to the leaves is that the sun's energy does it: heat from the sun causes the water to evaporate, setting the water chain in motion."

Ham Keillor-Faulkner is a professor of forestry at Sir Sandford Fleming College in Lindsay, Ontario. Here is his explanation:

To evolve into tall, self-supporting land plants, trees had to develop the ability to transport water from a supply in the soil to the crown--a vertical distance that is in some cases 100 meters or more (the height of a 30-story building). To understand this evolutionary achievement requires an awareness of wood structure, some of the biological processes occurring within trees and the physical properties of water.

Water and other materials necessary for biological activity in trees are transported throughout the stem and branches in thin, hollow tubes in the xylem, or wood tissue. These tubes are called vessel elements in hardwood or deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall), and tracheids in softwood or coniferous trees (those that retain the bulk of their most recently produced foliage over the winter). Vessel elements are joined end-to-end through perforation plates to form tubes (called vessels) that vary in size from a few centimeters to many meters in length depending on the species. Their diameters range from 20 to 800 microns. Along the walls of these vessels are very small openings called pits that allow for the movement of materials between adjoining vessels.

Tracheids in conifers are much smaller, seldomly exceeding five millimeters in length and 30 microns in diameter. They do not have perforated ends, and so are not joined end-to-end into other tracheids. As a result, the pits in conifers, also found along the lengths of the tracheids, assume a more important role. They are they only way that water can move from one tracheid to another as it moves up the tree.

To move water through these elements from the roots to the crown, a continuous column must form. It is believed that this column is initiated when the tree is a newly germinated seedling, and is maintained throughout the tree's life span by two forces--one pushing water up from the roots and the other pulling water up to the crown. The push is accomplished by two actions, namely capillary action (the tendency of water to rise in a thin tube because it usually flows along the walls of the tube) and root pressure. Capillary action is a minor component of the push. Root pressure supplies most of the force pushing water at least a small way up the tree. Root pressure is created by water moving from its reservoir in the soil into the root tissue by osmosis (diffusion along a concentration gradient). This action is sufficient to overcome the hydrostatic force of the water column--and the osmotic gradient in cases where soil water levels are low.

Capillary action and root pressure can support a column of water some two to three meters high, but taller trees--all trees, in fact, at maturity--obviously require more force. In some older specimens--including some species such as Sequoia , Pseudotsuga menziesii and many species in tropical rain forests--the canopy is 100 meters or more above the ground! In this case, the additional force that pulls the water column up the vessels or tracheids is evapotranspiration, the loss of water from the leaves through openings called stomata and subsequent evaporation of that water. As water is lost out of the leaf cells through transpiration, a gradient is established whereby the movement of water out of the cell raises its osmotic concentration and, therefore, its suction pressure. This pressure allows these cells to suck water from adjoining cells which, in turn, take water from their adjoining cells, and so on--from leaves to twigs to branches to stems and down to the roots--maintaining a continuous pull.

To maintain a continuous column, the water molecules must also have a strong affinity for one other. This idea is called the cohesion theory. Water does, in fact, exhibit tremendous cohesive strength. Theoretically, this cohesion is estimated to be as much as 15,000 atmospheres (atm). Experimentally, though, it appears to be much less at only 25 to 30 atm. Assuming atmospheric pressure at ground level, nine atm is more than enough to "hang" a water column in a narrow tube (tracheids or vessels) from the top of a 100 meter tree. But a greater force is needed to overcome the resistance to flow and the resistance to uptake by the roots. Even so, many researchers have demonstrated that the cohesive force of water is more than sufficient to do so, especially when it is aided by the capillary action within tracheids and vessels.

In conclusion, trees have placed themselves in the cycle that circulates water from the soil to clouds and back. They are able to maintain water in the liquid phase up to their total height by maintaining a column of water in small hollow tubes using root pressure, capillary action and the cohesive force of water.

Mark Vitosh, a Program Assistant in Extension Forestry at Iowa State University, adds the following information:

There are many different processes occuring within trees that allow them to grow. One is the movement of water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves in the canopy, or upper branches. Water is the building block of living cells it is a nourishing and cleansing agent, and a transport medium that allows for the distribution of nutrients and carbon compounds (food) throughout the tree. The coastal redwood, or Sequoia sempervirens , can reach heights over 300 feet (or approximately 91 meters), which is a great distance for water, nutrients and carbon compounds to move. To understand how water moves through a tree, we must first describe the path it takes.

Water and mineral nutrients--the so-called sap flow--travel from the roots to the top of the tree within a layer of wood found under the bark. This sapwood consists of conductive tissue called xylem (made up of small pipe-like cells). There are major differences between hardwoods (oak, ash, maple) and conifers (redwood, pine, spruce, fir) in the structure of xylem. In hardwoods, water moves throughout the tree in xylem cells called vessels, which are lined up end-to-end and have large openings in their ends. In contrast, the xylem of conifers consists of enclosed cells called tracheids. These cells are also lined up end-to-end, but part of their adjacent walls have holes that act as a sieve. For this reason, water moves faster through the larger vessels of hardwoods than through the smaller tracheids of conifers.

Both vessel and tracheid cells allow water and nutrients to move up the tree, whereas specialized ray cells pass water and food horizontally across the xylem. All xylem cells that carry water are dead, so they act as a pipe. Xylem tissue is found in all growth rings (wood) of the tree. Not all tree species have the same number of annual growth rings that are active in the movement of water and mineral nutrients. For example, conifer trees and some hardwood species may have several growth rings that are active conductors, whereas in other species, such as the oaks, only the current years' growth ring is functional.

This unique situation comes about because the xylem tissue in oaks has very large vessels they can carry a lot of water quickly, but can also be easily disrupted by freezing and air pockets. It's amazing that a 200 year-old living oak tree can survive and grow using only the support of a very thin layer of tissue beneath the bark. The rest of the 199 growth rings are mostly inactive. In a coastal redwood, though, the xylem is mostly made up of tracheids that move water slowly to the top of the tree.

Now that we have described the pathway that water follows through the xylem, we can talk about the mechanism involved. Water has two characteristics that make it a unique liquid. First, water adheres to many surfaces with which it comes into contact. Second, water molecules can also cohere, or hold on to each other. These two features allow water to be pulled like a rubber band up small capillary tubes like xylem cells.

Water has energy to do work: it carries chemicals in solution, adheres to surfaces and makes living cells turgid by filling them. This energy is called potential energy. At rest, pure water has 100 percent of its potential energy, which is by convention set at zero. As water begins to move, its potential energy for additional work is reduced and becomes negative. Water moves from areas with the least negative potential energy to areas where the potential energy is more negative. For example, the most negative water potential in a tree is usually found at the leaf-atmosphere interface the least negative water potential is found in the soil, where water moves into the roots of the tree. As you move up the tree the water potential becomes more negative, and these differences create a pull or tension that brings the water up the tree.

A key factor that helps create the pull of water up the tree is the loss of water out of the leaves through a process called transpiration. During transpiration, water vapor is released from the leaves through small pores or openings called stomates. Stomates are present in the leaf so that carbon dioxide--which the leaves use to make food by way of photosynthesis--can enter. The loss of water during transpiration creates more negative water potential in the leaf, which in turn pulls more water up the tree. So in general, the water loss from the leaf is the engine that pulls water and nutrients up the tree.

How can water withstand the tensions needed to be pulled up a tree? The trick is, as we mentioned earlier, the ability of water molecules to stick to each other and to other surfaces so strongly. Given that strength, the loss of water at the top of tree through transpiration provides the driving force to pull water and mineral nutrients up the trunks of trees as mighty as the redwoods.

Terms and Concepts

  • Wilt
  • Capillary action
  • Adhesion
  • Gravity
  • Transpiration
  • Evaporation
  • Cohesion
  • Surface tension
  • Carnation


  • Can you identify the different parts of a plant? Point out the roots, stems, leaves, and flowers of plants around you. Or draw a picture of a plant and label all these parts on the drawing.
  • What happens to a plant when you forget to water it? What does the plant look like when it is "thirsty"?
  • What is capillary action?
  • How is transpiration involved in capillary action?

Transpiration - What and Why?

What is transpiration? In actively growing plants, water is continuously evaporating from the surface of leaf cells exposed to air. This water is replaced by additional absorption of water from the soil. Liquid water extends through the plant from the soil water to the leaf surface where it is converted from a liquid into a gas through the process of evaporation. The cohesive properties of water (hydrogen bonding between adjacent water molecules) allow the column of water to be ‘pulled’ up through the plant as water molecules are evaporating at the surfaces of leaf cells. This process has been termed the Cohesion Theory of Sap Ascent in plants.

Picture of water molecules exiting stomata - side view

Why do plants transpire?

Evaporative cooling: As water evaporates or converts from a liquid to a gas at the leaf cell and atmosphere interface, energy is released. This exothermic process uses energy to break the strong hydrogen bonds between liquid water molecules the energy used to do so is taken from the leaf and given to the water molecules that have converted to highly energetic gas molecules. These gas molecules and their associated energy are released into the atmosphere, cooling the plant.

Accessing nutrients from the soil: The water that enters the root contains dissolved nutrients vital to plant growth. It is thought that transpiration enhances nutrient uptake into plants.

Carbon dioxide entry: When a plant is transpiring, its stomata are open, allowing gas exchange between the atmosphere and the leaf. Open stomata allow water vapor to leave the leaf but also allow carbon dioxide (CO2) to enter. Carbon dioxide is needed for photosynthesis to operate. Unfortunately, much more water leaves the leaf than CO2 enters for three reasons:

  1. H2O molecules are smaller than CO2 molecules and so they move to their destination faster.
  2. CO2 is only about 0.036% of the atmosphere (and rising!) so the gradient for its entry into the plant is much smaller than the gradient for H2O moving from a hydrated leaf into a dry atmosphere.
  3. CO2 has a much longer distance to travel to reach its destination in the chloroplast from the atmosphere compared to H2O which only has to move from the leaf cell surface to the atmosphere.

This disproportionate exchange of CO2 and H2O leads to a paradox. The larger the stomatal opening, the easier it is for carbon dioxide to enter the leaf to drive photosynthesis however, this large opening will also allow the leaf to lose large quantities of water and face the risk of dehydration or water-deficit stress. Plants that are able to keep their stomata slightly open, will lose fewer water molecules for every CO2 molecule that enters and thus will have greater water use efficiency (water lost/CO2 gained). Plants with greater water use efficiencies are better able to withstand periods when water in the soil is low.

Water uptake: Although only less than 5% of the water taken up by roots remains in the plant, that water is vital for plant structure and function. The water is important for driving biochemical processes, but also it creates turgor so that the plant can stand without bones.

Evapotranspiration and the Water Cycle

Evapotranspiration can be defined as the sum of all forms of evaporation plus transpiration, but here at the Water Science School, we'll be defining it as the sum of evaporation from the land surface plus transpiration from plants.

Note: This section of the Water Science School discusses the Earth's "natural" water cycle without human interference.

Water cycle components » Atmosphere · Condensation · Evaporation · Evapotranspiration · Freshwater lakes and rivers · Groundwater flow · Groundwater storage · Ice and snow · Infiltration · Oceans · Precipitation · Snowmelt · Springs · Streamflow · Sublimation · Surface runoff

What is evapotranspiration?

Evapotranspiration is the sum of evaporation from the land surface plus transpiration from plants.

The typical plant, including any found in a landscape, absorbs water from the soil through its roots. That water is then used for metabolic and physiologic functions. The water eventually is released to the atmosphere as vapor via the plant's stomata — tiny, closeable, pore-like structures on the surfaces of leaves. Overall, this uptake of water at the roots, transport of water through plant tissues, and release of vapor by leaves is known as transpiration.

Water also evaporates directly into the atmosphere from soil in the vicinity of the plant. Any dew or droplets of water present on stems and leaves of the plant eventually evaporates as well. Scientists refer to the combination of evaporation and transpiration as evapotranspiration, abbreviated ET.

Credit: Salinity Management Organization

If you search for the definition of evapotranspiration, you will find that it varies. In general, evapotranspiration is the sum of evaporation and transpiration. Some definitions include evaporation from surface-water bodies, even the oceans. But, since we have a Web page just about evaporation, our definition of evapotranspiration will not include evaporation from surface water. Here, evapotranspiration is defined as the water lost to the atmosphere from the ground surface, evaporation from the capillary fringe of the groundwater table, and the transpiration of groundwater by plants whose roots tap the capillary fringe of the groundwater table. The banner at the top of this page offers an even more simple definition.

The transpiration aspect of evapotranspiration is essentially evaporation of water from plant leaves. Studies have revealed that transpiration accounts for about 10 percent of the moisture in the atmosphere, with oceans, seas, and other bodies of water (lakes, rivers, streams) providing nearly 90 percent, and a tiny amount coming from sublimation (ice changing into water vapor without first becoming liquid).

Transpiration: The release of water from plant leaves

Just as you release water vapor when you breathe, plants do, too – although the term "transpire" is more appropriate than "breathe." This picture shows water vapor transpired from plant leaves after a plastic bag has been tied around the stem for about an hour. If the bag had been wrapped around the soil below it, too, then even more water vapor would have been released, as water also evaporates from the soil.

Plants put down roots into the soil to draw water and nutrients up into the stems and leaves. Some of this water is returned to the air by transpiration. Transpiration rates vary widely depending on weather conditions, such as temperature, humidity, sunlight availability and intensity, precipitation, soil type and saturation, wind, and land slope. During dry periods, transpiration can contribute to the loss of moisture in the upper soil zone, which can have an effect on vegetation and food-crop fields.

How much water do plants transpire?

After a plastic bag is wrapped around part of a plant, the inside of the bag becomes misty with transpired water vapor.

Plant transpiration is pretty much an invisible process. Since the water is evaporating from the leaf surfaces, you don't just go out and see the leaves "breathing". Just because you can't see the water doesn't mean it is not being put into the air, though. One way to visualize transpiration is to put a plastic bag around some plant leaves. As this picture shows, transpired water will condense on the inside of the bag. During a growing season, a leaf will transpire many times more water than its own weight. An acre of corn gives off about 3,000-4,000 gallons (11,400-15,100 liters) of water each day, and a large oak tree can transpire 40,000 gallons (151,000 liters) per year.

Atmospheric factors affecting transpiration

The amount of water that plants transpire varies greatly geographically and over time. There are a number of factors that determine transpiration rates:

  • Temperature: Transpiration rates go up as the temperature goes up, especially during the growing season, when the air is warmer due to stronger sunlight and warmer air masses. Higher temperatures cause the plant cells which control the openings (stoma) where water is released to the atmosphere to open, whereas colder temperatures cause the openings to close.
  • Relative humidity: As the relative humidity of the air surrounding the plant rises the transpiration rate falls. It is easier for water to evaporate into dryer air than into more saturated air.
  • Wind and air movement: Increased movement of the air around a plant will result in a higher transpiration rate. Wind will move the air around, with the result that the more saturated air close to the leaf is replaced by drier air.
  • Soil-moisture availability: When moisture is lacking, plants can begin to senesce (premature aging, which can result in leaf loss) and transpire less water.
  • Type of plant: Plants transpire water at different rates. Some plants which grow in arid regions, such as cacti and succulents, conserve precious water by transpiring less water than other plants.

Transpiration and groundwater

In many places, the top layer of the soil where plant roots are located is above the water table and thus is often wet to some extent, but is not totally saturated, as is soil below the water table. The soil above the water table gets wet when it rains as water infiltrates into it from the surface, But, it will dry out without additional precipitation. Since the water table is usually below the depth of the plant roots, the plants are dependent on water supplied by precipitation. As this diagram shows, in places where the water table is near the land surface, such as next to lakes and oceans, plant roots can penetrate into the saturated zone below the water table, allowing the plants to transpire water directly from the groundwater system. Here, transpiration of groundwater commonly results in a drawdown of the water table much like the effect of a pumped well (cone of depression—the dotted line surrounding the plant roots in the diagram).

8.3) Transpiration

Transpiration: is the loss of water vapour from plant leaves by evaporation of water at the surfaces of the mesophyll cells followed by the diffusion of water vapour through the stomata.

  • The main force that draws water from the soil and through the plant is caused by this.
  • Water evaporates from the leaves and causes a kind of ‘suction’, which pulls water up the stem.
  • The water travels up the xylem vessels in the vascular bundles and this flow of water is called the transpiration stream.
  • Root → Stem → Leaf

Factors affecting the rate of transpiration:

Describe how water vapour loss is related to cell surfaces, air spaces and stomata:

  • Transpiration is the loss of water vapour from the leaf
  • Water in the mesophyll cells form a thin layer on their surfaces
  • The water evaporates into the air spaces in the spongy mesophyll
  • This creates a high concentration of water molecules in the air spaces.
  • Water vapour diffuses out of the leaf into the surrounding air, through the stomata, by diffusion.

The mechanism of water uptake and movement in terms of transpiration producing a tension (“pull”) from above, creating a water potential gradient in the xylem, drawing cohesive water molecules up the plant:

Mechanism of water uptake:

  1. Water enters root hair cells by osmosis (as the water potential in the soil surrounding the root is higher than in the cell)
  2. As the water enters the cell, its water potential becomes higher than in the cell next to it, e.g. in the cortex
  3. So the water moves by osmosis, into the next cell
  4. This process is repeated until water reaches the xylem.

Mechanism of water movement through a plant:

  1. Transpiration continuously removes water from the leaf
  2. Thus water is constantly being taken from the top of the xylem vessels, to supply the cells in the leaves
  3. This reduces the effective pressure at the top of the xylem vessels
  4. This creates a transpiration stream or ‘pull’, pulling water up
  5. Water molecules have a strong tendency to stick together. This is called cohesion
  6. When the water is ‘pulled’ up the xylem vessels, the whole column of water stays together
  7. Roots also produce a root pressure, forcing water up the xylem vessels.

Occurs when the transpiration rate is faster than the rate of water absorption. The amount of water in the plant keeps on decreasing. The water content of cells decreases and cells turn from turgid to flaccid. The leaves shrink and the plant will eventually die.

Movement of Water and Minerals in the Xylem

Most plants obtain the water and minerals they need through their roots. The path taken is: soil -> roots -> stems -> leaves. The minerals (e.g., K+, Ca2+) travel dissolved in the water (often accompanied by various organic molecules supplied by root cells). Water and minerals enter the root by separate paths which eventually converge in the stele, or central vascular bundle in roots.

Transpiration is the loss of water from the plant through evaporation at the leaf surface. It is the main driver of water movement in the xylem. Transpiration is caused by the evaporation of water at the leaf, or atmosphere interface it creates negative pressure (tension) equivalent to &ndash2 MPa at the leaf surface. However, this value varies greatly depending on the vapor pressure deficit, which can be insignificant at high relative humidity (RH) and substantial at low RH. Water from the roots is pulled up by this tension. At night, when stomata close and transpiration stops, the water is held in the stem and leaf by the cohesion of water molecules to each other as well as the adhesion of water to the cell walls of the xylem vessels and tracheids. This is called the cohesion&ndashtension theory of sap ascent.

The cohesion-tension theory explains how water moves up through the xylem. Inside the leaf at the cellular level, water on the surface of mesophyll cells saturates the cellulose microfibrils of the primary cell wall. The leaf contains many large intercellular air spaces for the exchange of oxygen for carbon dioxide, which is required for photosynthesis. The wet cell wall is exposed to the internal air space and the water on the surface of the cells evaporates into the air spaces. This decreases the thin film on the surface of the mesophyll cells. The decrease creates a greater tension on the water in the mesophyll cells, thereby increasing the pull on the water in the xylem vessels. The xylem vessels and tracheids are structurally adapted to cope with large changes in pressure. Small perforations between vessel elements reduce the number and size of gas bubbles that form via a process called cavitation. The formation of gas bubbles in the xylem is detrimental since it interrupts the continuous stream of water from the base to the top of the plant, causing a break (embolism) in the flow of xylem sap. The taller the tree, the greater the tension forces needed to pull water in a continuous column, increasing the number of cavitation events. In larger trees, the resulting embolisms can plug xylem vessels, making them non-functional.

Figure (PageIndex<1>): Cohesion&ndashTension Theory of Sap Ascent: The cohesion&ndashtension theory of sap ascent is shown. Evaporation from the mesophyll cells produces a negative water potential gradient that causes water to move upwards from the roots through the xylem.

Water Cycle Steps

Water cycle steps are becoming less predictable as global warming changes water levels and distribution across the globe. This subcategory of the biogeochemical cycle should also not be discussed as a sequenced number of events as different modes of water uptake, transportation and return occur simultaneously and at different rates according to variances in global or local ecosystems. A mountainous region will experience significantly more sublimation and runoff, for example, when compared to flat, open plains. In fact, when discussing water cycle steps it is easier to look at the movement of water separately: going up and coming down.

Water Goes Up

Water cycle steps in the atmosphere are easy to see wherever a cloud is visible. A cloud is the result of water condensation that is added to the atmosphere by way of water evaporation, water sublimation, and water transpiration. Water can move through the troposphere by way of another water cycle step – water transportation. Water can return to the Earth’s crust through water precipitation and deposition.

The atmospheric water cycle takes place in the lowest layer of our atmosphere or the troposphere. The troposphere extends from the Earth’s surface and reaches heights of 4 miles at the two poles and up to 12 miles at the equator. The layer above – the stratosphere – contains very little water vapor.

Water vapor in the atmosphere is extremely important as these droplets are able to absorb solar energy as well as the heat that radiates from the Earth (thermal radiation). It is water vapor that regulates local climates and air temperatures. Variances in temperature, in turn, cause currents of air known as convection currents that help to create the wind patterns so often typical to a certain region, such as monsoon storms or desert zephyrs.

Transpiration is the conversion of water by plants into water vapor. In ideal conditions, plants only use around 5% of the water they take up through their root systems. One only has to see pictures of the mist above a rainforest to understand this contribution to water vapor levels in the troposphere. Under the sun’s rays, water escapes through leaf pores as a gas. The combination of evaporation and transpiration is called evapotranspiration. While transpiration is probably responsible for 10% of the troposphere’s water content, combined evapotranspiration provides about 99%.

Transportation does not provide water vapor to the troposphere but describes the movement of water via the wind or the jet streams – strong wind currents at the top of the troposphere or at the tropopause, a level of air between the troposphere and stratosphere. We can see the effects of transportation by watching clouds move across the sky. In addition, winds remove water vapor from the air above sources of water. This lowers the saturation levels (or humidity) of the air and allows even more water vapor to enter the atmosphere.

Water Goes Down

Water cycle steps on the Earth’s crust are highly dependent on the type of ecosystem. These steps are water condensation, precipitation, and deposition.

Water does not fall to earth in the form of water vapor. As water vapor rises, it loses heat energy through continuous motion. In addition, gaseous forms of water experience less pressure as they rise. Where there is less pressure, the air is unable to hold as much water as when pressures are high. Furthermore, other substances in the air such as pollen, pollutants, and dust provide a surface on which water vapor can settle and condense. Condensation is the opposite of evaporation and we have all seen the effect of condensation on windows and bathroom mirrors. As warm water vapor hits a cooler surface, energy levels dramatically drop. The water molecules no longer move at rapid rates and settle as water droplets. This also occurs in the atmosphere in the presence of condensation nuclei – small particles onto which water vapor can settle.

Clouds are the result of condensed water vapor. Eventually, they become saturated and are no longer able to hold liquid water droplets. This leads to precipitation.

Rain is the most common example of water cycle precipitation. Other forms are hailstones, sleet, and snow.

Deposition is the opposite of sublimation. In cases of deposition, water vapor is instantly converted from gas state to solid state (ice) without the intermediate liquid phase. In contrast to sublimation, the process of deposition releases energy. Deposition can be seen in snowfall and in the formation of frost.


Intermediary water cycle steps provide a bridge between water landing on the Earth’s surface and water vapor rising into the troposphere.

Infiltration is the absorption of water by the soil and rock of the upper level of the Earth’s crust and is very much dependent on environmental factors such as soil or rock depth, vegetation levels, saturation levels, and porosity. Percolation describes the flow of this infiltrated water through the soil or rock under the force of gravity. Eventually, percolated water will reach an impenetrable layer of non-porous rock. The water settles here in aquifers. You can make your own scale model of an aquifer by digging a deep pit in the sand when next on the beach. The pools or reservoirs of water that form above non-porous rock are called aquifers, but the water they contain is known as groundwater. Groundwater is another named phase of the water cycle and does not describe a step but the result of precipitation, infiltration and percolation.

Plant uptake is another way in which the water provided to the earth’s crust via precipitation and infiltration can be absorbed. Plant root systems take up water, using it as a nutrient source and discharging water vapor through leaf pores in the earlier described transpiration phase.

Where the ground is saturated and unable to deal with high levels of precipitation, another part of the water cycle takes place. This is water runoff. Water runoff is becoming a global problem due to the effects of global warming. Gravity is an extremely important factor when water droplets fall from the clouds. As everyone should know, water moves downhill. Where precipitation is high and the land it falls on is either limited in porosity or already saturated with water, water begins to flow downwards. Runoff may also be the result of snow melts.

Runoff is the combination of surface runoff, interflow, and baseflow. Surface runoff comes in the forms of saturation excess overland flow where the ground is already wet and unable to absorb more water, and overland flow or the runoff from our roofs, sidewalks and roads. As we increase non-porous infrastructures, we simultaneously reduce the globe’s ability to absorb precipitation. Storm runoff also occurs during heavy rainfall.

Interflow but involves water that has already percolated into lower soil levels. With the next heavy rain, this already saturated soil or rock is not given the time to reach the aquifer and water rises upwards to the soil subsurface and pushes upwards to produce increased surface runoff.

Baseflow or fair-weather flow describes how moving bodies of water such as streams and rivers take on infiltrated water over a longer period of time, between precipitation (hence ‘fair weather flow’). This is a delayed response but also contributes to runoff as an already present body of water that can increase dramatically in size in the days that follow precipitation events.

Explain how water moves up a plant via transpiration?

Transpiration is the loss of water vapour from a plant, mainly through the stomata of the leaves.

How does water move up through a plant?

#ul"Root pressure"#
The cells around the xylem vessels in the root uses active transport to absorb mineral salts up a concentration gradient into the plant. This lowers the water potential in the xylem vessels. Water therefore passes from the living cells into the xylem vessels by osmosis and flows upwards

#ul"Capillary action"#
Water tends to move up inside very narrow tubes due to the interactions between water molecules and the surfaces of the the tube. If the tube is sufficiently small, then the combination of surface tension (which is caused by cohesion within the liquid) and adhesive forces between the liquid and container wall act to propel the liquid.

#color(red)(ul"Cohesion theory"#
When water leaves the plant by transpiration, it creates a negative pressure ( suction ) on the water to replace the lost amount of water. It is like your typical straw when you suck on it. This negative pressure on the water pulls the entire column of water in the xylem vessel. This negative pressure due to transpiration is known as "transpiration pull". It is the main force in drawing water and mineral salts up through the plant.

Hence, these 3 factors work together hand in hand to move water up a plant.


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