Cohesion Transport Video

The major mechanism for long-distance water transport is described by the cohesion-tension theory, whereby the driving force of transport is transpiration, that is, the evaporation of water from the leaf surfaces. Water molecules cohere (stick together), and are pulled up the plant by the tension, or pulling force, exerted by evaporation at the leaf surface.

Water will always move toward a site with lower water potential, which is a measure of the chemical free energy of water. By definition, pure water has a water potential of 0 MegaPascals (MPa). In contrast, at 20 percent relative humidity, the water potential of the atmosphere is -500 MPa. This difference signifies that water will tend to evaporate into the atmosphere. The water within plants also has a negative potential, indicating water will tend to evaporate into the air from the leaf. The leaves of crop plants often function at -1 MPa, and some desert plants can tolerate leaf water potentials as low as -10 MPa. The water in plants can exist at such low water potentials due to the cohesive forces of water molecules. The chemical structure of water molecules is such that they cohere very strongly. By the cohesion-tension theory, when sunlight strikes a leaf, the resultant evaporation first causes a drop in leaf water potential. This causes water to move from stem to leaf, lowering the water potential in the stem, which in turn causes water to move from root to stem, and soil to root. This serves to pull water up through the xylem tissue of the plant.

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