Monday, November 8, 2021

Episode 602 (11-8-21): Photosynthesis Fun, Fundamentals, and Confluence with Climate Change

CLICK HERE to listen to episode audio (5:26).

Sections below are the following:
Transcript of Audio
Audio Notes and Acknowledgments
Related Water Radio Episodes
For Virginia Teachers (Relevant SOLs, etc.).

Unless otherwise noted, all Web addresses mentioned were functional as of 11-5-21.


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of November 8, 2021.

MUSIC – ~12 sec – instrumental.

That’s part of “Racing the Sun,” by The Faux Paws, on that group’s 2021 self-titled album, from Great Bear Records.  It opens a revised episode from November 2013, where we explore a sun-driven process that’s fundamental to life on earth: photosynthesis, the process where green plants and algae make food, using the energy in sunlight to store chemical energy in the form of glucose.  Photosynthesis is also…

VOICES IN SKIT - ~1 min./57 sec. 

REPORTER: We break into this show to bring you exclusive audio from the Virginia Tech campus, where a shadowy team of scientists are tinkering with the process underlying all life on earth.  They haven’t yet revealed their possibly nefarious plans, so let’s listen in...

SCIENTIST 1: With this terrarium, we have a model system to test our carbon dioxide-manipulation scheme, and soon we’ll be ready to control earth’s fundamental food-producing process...

SCIENTISTS 1 and 2: Photosynthesis!

SCIENTIST 2: Are all the components of the system ready?  Green plants with chlorophyll?


SCIENTIST 2: Soil with proper nutrients?

SCIENTIST 1.  Check!


SCIENTIST 1.  Check!

SCIENTIST 2.  Water?

SCIENTIST 1.  Check!

SCIENTIST 2.  Air with CO2?


SCIENTIST 2.  That’s carbon dioxide!

SCIENTIST 1.  Oh...right...I mean, check!

SCIENTIST 2.  Let the photosynthesis start!  Engage monitoring device!

SCIENTIST 1.  CO2 taken in from the air...water and nutrients being absorbed through roots...light falling on leaves.  All systems go!  Light energy is driving CO2 and water to combine and form glucose, the chemical-energy form, while releasing oxygen.

SCIENTIST 2.  Apply the CO2 inhibitor!

SCIENTIST 1.  Lid applied!  CO2 source blocked...system CO2 levels dropping rapidly...plants responding as expected, using up available CO2.

SCIENTIST 2.  Reverse manipulation!  Apply the CO2 increaser!

SCIENTIST 1. Lid removed!  CO2 added...plants responding.  Wait, they’re responding too fast!  They’re growing beyond the walls!  One has me...aieeeeeeee!

SCIENTIST 2.  Now it’s got me, too!  Noooooooo.....

REPORTER: Well, this might be a good time for us to return to our regular show.  Back to you....


Unlike this skit, with its far-fetched human-eating plants, there’s nothing make-believe about Earth life’s reliance on photosynthesis using sunlight, chlorophyll, nutrients, water, and carbon dioxide to make food.  Moreover, photosynthesis is a fundamental aspect of understanding and responding to climate change.  Photosynthesis millions of years ago created the hydrocarbon compounds that constitute today’s fossil fuels, and photosynthesis now—absorbing and storing some of the carbon dioxide released in fossil fuel burning—has an important role in reducing Earth’s carbon dioxide levels, warming, and other climate-change impacts.  For example, the capacity for photosynthesizing trees to take up atmospheric carbon dioxide was one aspect of the “Declaration on Forests and Land Use” at the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, or COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, from October 31 to November 12, 2021.

Thanks to Eli Heilker and John Kidd for participating in this episode.  Thanks also to Andrew VanNorstrand for permission to use part of “Racing the Sun.”  We close with another musical selection appropriate for the climate challenges facing the COP26 meeting and all of us.  Here’s about 25 seconds of “On a Ship,” by Blacksburg, Va., musician Kat Mills.

MUSIC - ~ 24 sec – Lyrics: “We are riding on a ship,” then instrumental.


Virginia Water Radio is produced by the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, part of Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment.  For more Virginia water sounds, music, or information, visit us online at, or call the Water Center at (540) 231-5624.  Thanks to Stewart Scales for his banjo version of Cripple Creek to open and close this show.  In Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


This Virginia Water Radio episode revises and replaces Episode 186, 11-4-13.

“Racing the Sun,” from the 2021 album “The Faux Paws,” is copyright by Great Bear Records, used with permission of Andrew VanNorstrand.  More information about The Faux Paws is available online at  More information about Great Bear Records is available online at

“On a Ship,” from the 2015 album “Silver,” is copyright by Kat Mills, used with permission.  Accompanists on the song are Ida Polys, vocals; Rachel Handman, violin; and Nicholas Polys, banjo.   More information about Kat Mills is available online at  This music was used previously by Virginia Water Radio most recently in Episode 517, 3-23-20.

Virginia Water Radio thanks John Kidd, formerly of the Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation, and Eli Heilker, a graduate of Virginia Tech in English who served an internship in Fall 2013 with the Virginia Water Resources Research Center, for their participation in this episode.

Click here if you’d like to hear the full version (1 min./11 sec.) of the “Cripple Creek” arrangement/performance by Stewart Scales that opens and closes this episode.  More information about Mr. Scales and the group New Standard, with which Mr. Scales plays, is available online at


Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation demonstration of plant uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) during photosynthesis.  A terrarium (left) is attached via gas-transporting tubing to a CO2 monitor at right.  Photo taken in Blacksburg, Va., October 2013.


Diagram explaining carbon dioxide (CO2) uptake by trees and other woody plants during photosynthesis, resulting in carbon storage, or “carbon sequestration,” a key concept in the issue of climate change.  Diagram courtesy of John Seiler, Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Environmental Conservation.

Sugar Maple on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg on November 9, 2021, in which green chlorophyll pigment was breaking down as photosynthesis in the leaves was stopping with the approach of winter.  The breakdown of chlorophyll in the fall allows pigments of other colors in the leaves to be revealed.  More information on fall leaf-color change is available in “The Miracle of Fall,” University of Illinois Extension, online at


Rick Groleau, “Illuminating Photosynthesis,” Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and WGBH-Boston, “NOVA” program, November 1, 2001, online at

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/California Institute of Technology, “Global Climate Change” Website, online at  Specific pages used were the following:
“A breathing planet, off balance,” by Kate Ramsayer and Carol Rasmussen, November 11, 2015, online at; and
“Frequently Asked Questions,” online at

John Seiler, John Groninger, and John Peterson, Forest Biology and Dendrology, Virginia Tech Department of Forest Resources and Conservation, Blacksburg, Va., 2009.

Smithsonian Institution, “Ocean—Find Your Blue/What Are Fossil Fuels?”; online at

26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), October 31—November 12, 2021, online at  [October 31-November 12, 2021]; for information on photosynthesizing forests serving as “sinks” for carbon dioxide and other “greenhouse gases,” see particularly “Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forests and Land Use,” November 2, 2021, online at


All Water Radio episodes are listed by category at the Index link above (  See particularly the “Plants,” “Science,” and “Weather/Climate/Natural Disasters” subject categories.

Following are links to some other episodes related to climate change. 

Episode 231, 9-15-14 – Exploring Climate Change Basics, with Examples from Assateague Island National Seashore and Shenandoah National Park.
Episode 312, 4-18-16
– Student's Research Digs into Streamside Soils, Rainfall Rates, and Greenhouse Gases.


Following are some Virginia Standards of Learning (SOLs) that may be supported by this episode’s audio/transcript, sources, or other information included in this post.

2020 Music SOLs 

SOLs at various grade levels that call for “examining the relationship of music to the other fine arts and other fields of knowledge.”

2018 Science SOLs 

Grades K-4: Living Systems and Processes
K.7 – Plants and animals have basic needs and life processes.
1.4 – Plants have basic life needs (including water) and functional parts that allow them to survive.
2.5 – Living things are part of a system.
4.3 – Organisms, including humans, interact with one another and with the nonliving components in the ecosystem.

Grades K-5: Earth and Space Systems
3.6 – Soil is important in ecosystems.
3.7 – There is a water cycle and water is important to life on Earth. 

Grades K-5: Earth Resources
2.8 – Plants are important natural resources.
3.8 – Natural events and humans influence ecosystems.
4.8 – Virginia has important natural resources.
5.9 – Conservation of energy resources is important.

Grade 6
6.4 – There are basic sources of energy and that energy can be transformed.
6.6 – Water has unique physical properties and has a role in the natural and human-made environment.
6.7 – Air has properties and the Earth’s atmosphere has structure and is dynamic.
6.9 – Humans impact the environment and individuals can influence public policy decisions related to energy and the environment.

Life Science
LS.4 – There are chemical processes of energy transfer which are important for life.
LS.5 – Biotic and abiotic factors affect an ecosystem.
LS.6     – Populations in a biological community interact and are interdependent.
LS.8 – Change occurs in ecosystems, communities, populations, and organisms over time.
LS.9 – Relationships exist between ecosystem dynamics and human activity.

Earth Science
ES.6 – Resource use is complex.
ES.8 – Freshwater resources influence and are influenced by geologic processes and human activity.
ES.10 – Oceans are complex, dynamic systems subject to long- and short-term variations.
ES.11 – The atmosphere is a complex, dynamic system subject to long-and short-term variations.
ES.12 – The Earth’s weather and climate result from the interaction of the sun’s energy with the atmosphere, oceans, and the land.

BIO.2 – Chemical and biochemical processes are essential for life.
BIO.8 – Dynamic equilibria exist within populations, communities, and ecosystems. 

2015 Social Studies SOLs

Grades K-3 Civics Theme
3.12 – Importance of government in community, Virginia, and the United States, including government protecting rights and property of individuals.

Virginia Studies Course
VS.10 – Knowledge of government, geography, and economics in present-day Virginia.

United States History: 1865-to-Present Course
USII.9 – Domestic and international issues during the second half of the 20th Century and the early 21st Century.

Civics and Economics Course
CE.6 – Government at the national level.
CE.7 – Government at the state level.
CE.8 – Government at the local level.
CE.10 – Public policy at local, state, and national levels.

World Geography Course
WG.2 – How selected physical and ecological processes shape the Earth’s surface, including climate, weather, and how humans influence their environment and are influenced by it.
WG.18 – Cooperation among political jurisdictions to solve problems and settle disputes.

Virginia and United States History Course
VUS.14 – Political and social conditions in the 21st Century.

Government Course
GOVT.7 – National government organization and powers.
GOVT.8 – State and local government organization and powers.
GOVT.9 – Public policy process at local, state, and national levels.
GOVT. 12 – Role of the United States in a changing world, including responsibilities of the national government for foreign policy and national security.
GOVT.15 – Role of government in Va. and U.S. economies, including examining environmental issues and property rights.

Virginia’s SOLs are available from the Virginia Department of Education, online at

Following are links to Water Radio episodes (various topics) designed especially for certain K-12 grade levels.

Episode 250, 1-26-15 – on boiling, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 255, 3-2-15
– on density, for 5th and 6th grade.
Episode 282, 9-21-15
– on living vs. non-living, for kindergarten.
Episode 309, 3-28-16
– on temperature regulation in animals, for kindergarten through 12th grade.
Episode 333, 9-12-16
– on dissolved gases, especially dissolved oxygen in aquatic habitats, for 5th grade.
Episode 403, 1-15-18
– on freezing and ice, for kindergarten through 3rd grade.
Episode 404, 1-22-18
– on ice on ponds and lakes, for 4th through 8th grade.
Episode 406, 2-5-18
– on ice on rivers, for middle school.
Episode 407, 2-12-18
– on snow chemistry and physics, for high school.
Episode 483, 7-29-19
– on buoyancy and drag, for middle school and high school.
Episode 524, 5-11-20
– on sounds by water-related animals, for elementary school through high school.
Episode 531, 6-29-20
– on various ways that animals get water, for 3rd and 4th grade.
Episode 539, 8-24-20
– on basic numbers and facts about Virginia’s water resources, for 4th and 6th grade.