"Without oxygen, life wouldn’t grow larger than a pinhead.”
This quote is from, “One Strange Rock,” the new docuseries on Netflix narrated by Will Smith, which beautifully illustrates how fascinating our planet really is.
The first episode is about breath and showcases how vital oxygen is for life as we know it. And it’s pretty mind blowing...
It turns out, there are consistent massive sandstorms in North Africa that shift towards South America where more than 270 million tons of sand fall into the Amazon Rainforest.
That sand happens to be a magnificent fertilizer which is the reason the Amazon is the most life abundant place in the world.
It also happens to generate far more oxygen than anywhere on the planet – but because life is so abundant there due to all the oxygen – life uses it all.
My once held belief the Amazon Rainforest are the lungs of the planet due to its oxygen production crumbled. The Amazon does supply oxygen to the world, but not in the way most of us think.
It’s actually through a river in the sky.
The trees in the Amazon soak up water with its roots and it travels upwards through the leaves producing condensation. Then, wind and the sun transform the condensation into clouds and sweeps it across the continent.
In the episode, they mention this ‘cloud river’ is larger than any other river on Earth — including the Nile.
After a long journey, this river in the sky runs smack into the Andes mountains. Being miles 5,500 long and 4 miles tall, the clouds have nowhere to go and the condensation transforms into rain.
This rain runs down the mountains eroding rock along the way, spilling massive amounts of nutrients into the Amazon Basin, creating a different world of life.
Stick with me. This is where it gets interesting.
Organisms called diatoms are born from the nutrient rich sediment. These organisms are very good at replicating and trillions of them spread throughout the oceans. Through photosynthesis, diatoms end up accounting for up to 40% of the air we breathe.
It gets more fascinating. When these blooms of diatoms die off, they transform into underwater snowflakes that remain at the bottom of the sea floor. Once these seas dry up, the diatoms create a salt desert, like the one in Northern Africa.
And guess what? The sand that covers the Amazon? Those are the dead shells of diatoms enriching the rainforest and starting the process over again. I know, it's mind blowing.
This quote by an astronaut in the episode really sums it up:
"There is absolutely nothing on one side of the planet that isn’t absolutely connected to the other side of the planet."
It can be pretty easy to take oxygen for granted given the fact we subconsciously are breathing in every moment, but it's good to remember how lucky we really are and what a gift it is to be able to breathe.