Environmental Factors That Impact Photosynthesis

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  • 0:04 Photosynthesis
  • 1:08 Factors Impacting…
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

What is photosynthesis? Learn about the environmental factors that affect the rate at which photosynthesis happens. Then, take a quiz to test your understanding.


Photosynthesis is one of the most important processes on the planet. It's the process by which green, chlorophyll-containing plants create food from sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water. Photosynthesis is the reason that the sun's energy is able to spark life on Earth. Plants gain the sun's energy, and those plants are then eaten by animals. Those animals can, in turn, be eaten by other animals (carnivores and omnivores), passing energy along the food chain. So, without photosynthesis, we wouldn't exist.

The equation for photosynthesis is:

Equation for Photosynthesis

It says that carbon dioxide plus water reacts to form glucose (sugar for energy) and oxygen, with the addition of the sun's energy. Carbon dioxide is absorbed from the air, water is absorbed in the plant's roots, and oxygen is released back into the air. Plants get sunlight when chlorophyll in the leaves absorbs it. This is why the leafy parts of trees grow up towards the light.

The equation also gives you a clue of some of the requirements for photosynthesis, as well as some of the factors that can affect it. Let's talk about those in more detail.

Factors Impacting Photosynthesis

Light intensity is one factor that affects photosynthesis. Without the energy from light, the chemical reaction cannot happen. If plants have less light, they photosynthesize more slowly. The speed of photosynthesis increases with greater light intensity, though it ultimately levels off once the plant has as much light as it needs.

Carbon dioxide concentration is another factor that affects photosynthesis. Generally, there is plenty of carbon dioxide in the air so there is little impact on photosynthesis in different environments. It's still a requirement, however, and if we deprive plants of carbon dioxide in the lab, we find a similar relationship to that of light: the rate of photosynthesis increases with carbon dioxide concentration until the plant has enough or more carbon dioxide than it needs; at that point, the rate doesn't increase much further.

Based on the equation, it's probably not surprising that carbon dioxide and sunlight are two major factors that affect photosynthesis, but there is a third that isn't so obvious: temperature. Temperature is also a major factor that affects photosynthesis, although this one works differently. There is an optimum temperature for the reaction to happen at the highest possible rate. This is true of a lot of chemical reactions, especially biological ones. If the temperature is too cold or too hot, plants struggle to photosynthesize. However, plants can be adapted to different climates and handle different temperatures.

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