For the past few weeks news of the Amazon wildfire has spread across social media like wildfire itself. Social media influencers and even general users have been doing their best to bring awareness to this issue by talking about how the amazon accounts for 20% of the world’s oxygen which is not completely true.
Nearly all free oxygen present in the air is produced by plants through photosynthesis. (⅓)rd of this is produced by tropical forests of which the Amazon basin is a major contributor. But there is a twist here. All that oxygen is used up by living organisms and fires. With trees constantly shedding leaves and twigs, it adds to the nourishment of the microbes and insects which in turn consume a lot of oxygen. As a net result, the oxygen produced by forests is close to zero.
Research shows that the ocean produces almost all the oxygen we breath, and can last us millions of years.
For oxygen to accumulate in the air, the organic matter produced during photosynthesis needs to be removed from circulation before the oxygen itself gets consumed. They need to be quickly buried in places where oxygen has been depleted for example in deep-sea mud.
This process takes place in parts of the ocean that have high levels of nutrients to fertilize algae blooms. The dead blooms float to the bottom where microbes feed off of it. The remaining matter gets buried and eventually becomes a source of coal.
The oxygen produced by the algae blooms still remains in the air due to the lack of decomposers. In this way, it adds to about 0.0001% of the oxygen in the air. While this a small number, over millions of years it has become a legitimate source of oxygen that all animal life depends on.
Although plant growth is responsible for breathable oxygen, it accounts for a very small percentage and if all of the organic matter on earth were burnt it would be worth less than 1% of the oxygen consumed.
While the amazon wildfire is a serious disaster and worrisome for several reasons such as the extremely rare species of flora and fauna that cannot be found anywhere else in the world and the indigenous tribes that see the amazon as their home, loss of oxygen production isn’t one of them.