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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 72.djvu/352

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348
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

carbon dioxide through the intermedium of the water. This readily absorbs large quantities of the gas. But the percentage existing in the air is so small, the absorbing surface of the lake is so restricted, and the means of transport are so poor that the lake is quite unable to take from the air enough carbon dioxide to maintain a vigorous growth of plants. The lake is forced to depend on its own resources to a large degree for this plant food. Fortunately, these resources are considerable. Great amounts of carbon dioxide are manufactured in the lake and these may be utilized as food by the green plants. Thus there is kept up in the lake a sort of internal circulation of carbon dioxide; the stock of the circulating medium being increased and replenished by additions from outside. The activities of animals and the processes of decomposition liberate the gas, which is taken up and manufactured by the plants into organic substances; and these in turn serve as food and as material for new decomposition; while from the air the water may be absorbing new supplies of carbon dioxide to make good the losses of this process. Thus under normal conditions, the lake would return little or no carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, but would utilize within itself all that it manufactured or absorbed, at least until the plant life became so abundant as to be limited by other causes than that of food supply.

If this were all, the story would be quite simple and quite to the advantage of the lake. But it is by no means all the story; on the other hand, so far from being forced to solve problems associated with an oversupply of carbon dioxide, the lake has to encounter many difficulties in securing an adequate supply of that gas, and is able to meet them only very partially and imperfectly. Since the plants are able to utilize carbon dioxide in the manufacture of starch only during the hours of sunlight, considerable quantities may escape into the atmosphere during the night. But this is not the only disadvantage as regards the supply of carbon dioxide, with which the plants of the upper water have to contend. By no means all, or even the greater part of the organic matter which they manufacture decomposes in the upper, warmer stratum of the lake. As the plants and animals die, they sink into the lower and cooler water before any great part of the decomposition has been completed. The carbon dioxide which is there produced is discharged into this bottom water. It can not be used there by plants on account of lack of light. The same imperfections of transportation which prevent the access of oxygen to the cooler water in summer make it impossible to transport the carbon dioxide produced there to the upper stratum, where it can be utilized. In certain lakes, indeed, a small portion of this gas may be used in the cooler water, as I indicated above, but, in general, the upper water, as a result of this process, is growing poorer during the summer in the materials on