I've read that forests are important because they absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen to the atmoshpere 1. But other places say that this is false for a mature forest:

"On average, then, this mature forest has no net flux of carbon dioxide or oxygen to or from the atmosphere, unless we cut it all down for logging," Sarmiento said. "The ocean works the same way. Most of the photosynthesis is counterbalanced by an equal and opposite amount of respiration." 2

It seems that phytoplakton are the responsibles of carbon dioxide fixing and oxygen emission.

Tiny ocean plants called phytoplankton contribute 50 to 85 percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere.3

So are there any solid studies that show what are the "lungs" of the planet, if any?

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    Is skeptics.stackexchange.com/a/6804/2703 a satisfactory explanation, or answer to your question? – ChrisW Aug 10 '13 at 22:08
  • one thing to note about a mature forest is that the trees will die fall and decompose and new ones will replace it, this will produce oxygen (or more accurately bind carbon) – ratchet freak Aug 11 '13 at 13:08
  • @ratchetfreak: Yes, this is the essence of the answer pointed to by ChrisW. I'm hoping we can close as duplicate. – Oddthinking Aug 11 '13 at 13:10
  • Yes, mine's a duplicate. Should I delete the question? – jinawee Aug 11 '13 at 13:32
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    @jinawee No need to delete it. It will get closed as a duplicate, but leave it here as a signpost for search engines. – user5582 Aug 12 '13 at 8:11

You have to understand what plants do when they grow: basically they take sun, water and CO2 and convert that to more plant and O2.

Now the other way around, a plant gets consumed by fire or eaten by an animal you have the reverse: the process takes in O2 and plant and creates energy, water and CO2.

That's the circle. Forrests "create" O2 as long as you let the plants and trees stay biomass and not consume them.

  • IMO it's "created" (past tense), not "create". The biomass in, and carbon sequestrated by, a mature forest remains constant. – ChrisW Sep 11 '13 at 9:53

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