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How do Trees Really lift Water to their Leaves?

9 years 2 days ago - 9 years 2 days ago #445 by Andrew
Osmosis Capillary action and root pressure are accepted as the driving force for lifting water to the canopy of a giant Californian Redwood, towering a hundred metres and more? And these forces are producing flow rates up to and in excess of a 1000 litres a day in a single tree?

Another theory is that the leaves, which are porous, can somehow suck water from the soil and evaporate it through the pores of the leaves? Ever tried sucking on a straw with a hole in it?

Maybe there is another explanation:

Herald Express, July 6, 1995, page 19. (local paper in Torbay, Devon)


Cliff experiment pulls plug on 300 year old law of physics

A Revolutionary breakthrough claimed by a Paignton man is to be investigated by top scientists.
Ideas man Andrew K Fletcher claims he has disproved a fundamental law of physics dating back to the 17th century.
And impressed by the historic experiment at Overgang cliff, Brixham, to raise water 78 feet without the support of any artificial aids,
John Hunt, Senior forestry Officer for Devon and Somerset who witnessed the experiment's success last Friday said: 'It was quite impressive.

The rule that water will only rise 32 feet under atmospheric pressure when in a column was effectively disproved."

But Mr Hunt explained that he is a professional forester not a scientist and a report on the experiment would be sent to the Forestry commission 's Alice
Holt Research Station, near Farnham in Surrey, for further investigation.
Mr Fletcher's experiment involves a long water filled plastic tube, strung up the cliffside with both open ends placed in two filled demijohns.
A small amount of a salt solution is added at the top of the tube before it is completely filled with water, this acts as a liquid pulley says
Mr Fletcher, lifting water from one demijohn to the other, thereby disproving Torriceli's 17th century law.
This explains how trees can raise water to their tops beyond the 32 feet limit."
said an ecstatic Mr Fletcher. He believes that the discovery also suggests a mechanism by which all life on earth has evolved from the ground.

The Experiment at Brixham Overgang Cliffs where water flowed vertical up a single 6 mm bore tubing using 10 mils of salt solution, demonstrating that a tiny amount of denser solution can lift effortlessly many thousands of times it’s own volume in water without any artificial aids, demonstrating clearly a non living physical cause of bulk flow in plants trees, animals and humans. The 10 metre limit for lifting water clearly needs some serious revision. View The Historic Event on Youtube as it unfolded all those years ago and ask why has this important discovery been ignored for so long.

Radio Interview with Patrick Timpone on One Radio Network

20 years ago Andrew made a phenomenal discovery in circulation and how gravity acts upon fluid density changes that take place in all fluids where water is evaporated. In trees (Where this theory began) evaporation from the leaves alters the density of sap. In the body, the warm lungs and airways provide the same density changes in the blood and other fluids. It was not long before it became obvious that posture was incredibly more important than anyone could imagine. To make use of these density changes and allow them to assist the circulation all we needed to do was to manage our posture.
This was a Eureka moment of such magnitude it went off the scale for Andrew and instantly gave birth to Inclined Bed Therapy.
Show Highlights:
-Andrew explains how learning about how trees uptake water led him to understand the benefits of inclined bed therapy

Video of the Brixham Experiment on Youtube:

Video introduction to density flow on Youtube:

Video of a scaled down version of the Brixham Experiment on youtube:

Andrew K Fletcher

Let's start with Osmosis:

The work Of Professor H.T.Hammel:

Osmosis is the reason that a fresh water fish placed in the ocean desiccates and dies. Osmosis is the reason that blisters form on fibreglass boat hulls. Osmosis is how waste products of metabolism enter and leave the blood stream. Osmosis determines how you, me and every living thing lives and dies. One would think that a civilization that spends billions of dollars every year on medical research would understand something as basic as osmosis. Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Source: www.yarbroughlaw.com/Osmosis.htm

Or what about Root Pressure?

Roots can squeeze water to the tops of trees? You what?. ROFLMAO. Sorry but every time I read about root pressure it makes me cringe.

Or maybe capillary action? In other words, a tree is a giant sponge capable of blotting water from below ground level to heights in excess of a hundred metres at flow rates that can exceed a thousand litres of water a day in a single tree.

Does the cohesion tension theory suck? How can leaves create suction when there are pores in them open to the air? Is it not like trying to suck water through a straw with holes in it? And what about when the leaves have fallen in Autumn, where is this magical cohesion generated when there are no leaves?

And then there is the problem with Strasburger's experiments, where he killed all of the living cells in a tree suspended vertically in a bath of picric acid with the roots removed and observed the continued evaporation of the poison several weeks after the death of the tree.


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Last edit: 9 years 2 days ago by Andrew.

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9 years 2 days ago #446 by Andrew
GCSE Basic Physiology and water transport.


"I have chosen to relate to the following text book because it is written by a person who like myself is not entirely satisfied by the explanations put forward in the relevant subjects".

Figure C’s results raise the questions; What is osmosis and how are its qualities explained in the text books.

For the currently accepted view of osmosis and all other views on water transport I will refer to one of the standard GCSE text books entitled GCSE BIOLOGY, D.G. Mackean. ISBN 0-7195-4281-2 first published in 1986.

Page 34 fig 3 Diffusion gradient


Osmosis is the special name used to describe the diffusion of water across a membrane, from a dilute solution to a more concentrated solution. In biology this usually means the diffusion of water into or out of cells Osmosis is just one special kind of because it is only water molecules and their movement we are considering. Figure 3 showed that molecules will diffuse from a region where there are a lot of them to a region where they are fewer in number; that is from a region of highly concentrated molecules to a region of lower concentration. Pure water has the highest possible concentration of water molecules; it is 100% water molecules, all of them free to move.

Figure 9 shows a concentrated sugar solution, separated from a dilute solution by a membrane, which allows water molecules to pass through. The dilute solution, in effect contains more water molecules than the concentrated solution. As a result of this difference in concentration, water molecules will diffuse from the dilute to the concentrated solution. The level of the concentrated solution will rise or, if it is confined to an enclosed space, its pressure will increase. The membrane separating the two solutions is often called selectively permeable or semi-permeable because it appears as if water molecules can pass through it more easily than sugar molecules can.

Osmosis then is the passage of water across a selectively permeable membrane from a dilute solution to a concentrated solution.

This is all you need to know in order to understand the effects of osmosis in living organisms, But a more complete explanation is given below.


The current text book explanation for osmosis appears to have ignored the effects of gravity on liquids. The constant pull of gravity acts differently on concentrated solutions than dilute solutions i.e. The concentrated solution is heavier than the dilute solution and will always settle at the bottom of a reservoir or in this case a vessel.

To see this clearly, picture Fig 9 without the membrane; the result would be that the concentrated solution would sink and the dilute solution would rise. This effect will not stop because of the membrane. The concentrated solution will still cause the dilute solution to rise as we have seen earlier; and as the concentrated solution moves into the opposite side containing the dilute solution, the dilute solution is dragged through the membrane in a circular motion. For every action there must be a reaction. In order to prove this point add a little dye to the sugar solution and watch the exchange between the liquids.

"When the effect that gravity exerts on concentrated solutions is added to the equation of water transport and osmosis, it gives us a very clear understanding of the driving mechanisms involved".

Chapter 7 Transport in plants

page 71

The main force which draws water from the soil and through the plant is caused by a process called transpiration. Water evaporates from the leaves and causes a kind of ‘suction ‘ which pulls water up the stem. The water travels up the vessels in the vascular bundles and this flow of water is called the transpiration stream. The water vapour passes by diffusion through the air spaces in the mesophyll and out of the stomata. It is this loss of water vapour from the leaves which is called transpiration. The cell walls which are losing water in this way replace it by drawing water from the nearest vein. Most of this water travels along the cell walls without actually going inside the cells. Thousands of leaf cells are evaporating water like this and drawing water to replace it from the xylem vessels in the veins. As a result , water is pulled through the xylem vessels and up the stem from the roots. This transpiration pull is strong enough to draw up water 50 metres or more in trees.

Page 72

Most of this water evaporates from the leaves; only a tiny fraction is retained for photosynthesis and to maintain the turgor of the cells. The advantage to the plant of this excessive evaporation is not clear.

A rapid water flow may be needed to obtain sufficient mineral salts, which are in very dilute solution in the soil. Evaporation may also help to cool the leaf when exposed to intense sunlight.

Against the first possibility it has to be pointed out that, in some cases, an increased transpiration rate does not increase the uptake of minerals.

Many biologists regard transpiration as an inevitable consequence of photosynthesis, in order to photosynthesise, a leaf has to take in carbon dioxide from the air. The pathway that lets carbon dioxide in will also let water vapour out whether the plant needs to lose water or not. In all probability, plants have to maintain a careful balance between the optimum intake of carbon dioxide and a damaging loss of water.

Page 73

Humidity if the air is very humid, i.e. contains a great deal of water vapour, it can accept very little more from the plants and so transpiration slows down. In dry air, the diffusion of water vapour from the leaf to the atmosphere will be rapid. ( " I will deal with this point later on because it is very important and has implications for human health ") Air Movements: In still air, the region round a transpiring leaf will become saturated with water vapour so that no more can escape from the leaf. In these conditions, transpiration slows down. In moving air the water vapour will be swept away from the leaf as fast as it diffuses out. This will Speed up the transpiration. Furthermore, when the sun shines on the leaves, they will absorb heat as well as light. This warms them up and increases the rate of evaporation.

Page 73 continued Water movement in the xylem

You may have learned in physics that you cannot draw water up by suction to a height of more than about ten metres. Many trees are taller than this yet they can draw up water effectively. The explanation offered is that, in long vertical columns of water in very thin tubes, the attractive forces between the water molecules are greater than the forces trying to separate them. So in effect the transpiration stream is pulling up thin threads of water which resist the tendency to break.

There are still problems however, it is likely that the water columns in some of the vessels do have air breaks in them and yet the total water flow is not affected. The evidence all points to the non-living xylem vessels as the main route by which water passes from the soil to the leaves.

"This statement suggests that the long thin tubes of the tree ,are used for water transport, which are none-living , therefore must represent the tubes used in my experiments at Brixham."

Page 74

Root Pressure

In Experiment 8 on page 79 it is demonstrated that liquid may be forced up a stem by root pressure from the root system. The usual explanation for this is that the cell sap in the root hairs is more concentrated than the

soil water and so water enters by osmosis (see page 36). The water passes from cell to cell by osmosis and is finally forced into the xylem vessels in the centre of the root and up the stem.

This is rather an elaborate model from very little evidence. For example, a gradient of falling osmotic potentials from the outside to the inside of a root has not been demonstrated. However, there is some supporting evidence for the movement of water as a result of root pressure.

root pressures of 1-2 atmospheres have been recorded, and these would support columns of water 10 or 20 metres high. Some workers claim pressures of up to eight atmospheres (i.e. 80 metres of water)

" A column of water 80 metres high would undoubtedly cause water pressures of eight atmospheres at the roots. However It is very difficult to see how a root could generate 8 atmospheres of pressure."

However, root pressure seems to occur mainly in the young herbaceous (i.e. non-woody) plants or in woody plants early in the growing season and though in many species it must contribute to water movements in the stem. The observed rates of flow are too fast to be explained by root pressure alone.

Transport of salts

The liquid which travels in the xylem is not, in fact pure water. It is a very dilute solution, containing from 0.1to1.0% dissolved solids, mostly amino acids, other organic acids and mineral salts. The organic acids are made in the roots; the mineral salts come from the soil. The faster the flow in the transpiration stream, the more dilute is the xylem sap. Experimental evidence suggests that salts are carried from the soil to the leaves mainly in the xylem vessels.

Transport of food

The xylem sap is always a very dilute solution, but the Phloem sap may contain up to 25 per cent of dissolved solids, The bulk of which consists of sucrose and amino acids.

There is a good deal of evidence to support the view that sucrose amino acids and may other substances are transported in the phloem. The movement of water and salts in the xylem is always upwards, from the soil to the leaf. But in the phloem the sap may be travelling up or down the stem. The carbohydrates made in the leaf during photosynthesis are converted to sucrose and carried out of the leaf to the stem. From here the sucrose may pass upwards to growing buds and fruits or downwards to the roots and storage organs. All parts of a plant which cannot photosynthesise will need a supply of nutrients bought by the phloem. It is possible for substances to be travelling upwards and downwards at the same time in the phloem.

"note the dual flow has been observed in experiments with concentrated solution and water filled tubes."

Page 74 continued

There is no doubt that substances travel in the sieve tubes of the phloem But the mechanism by which they are moved is not fully understood.

There are several theories, which attempt to explain how sucrose and other solutes are transported in the phloem but none of them is entirely satisfactory.

Page 75

Uptake of water and salts

The water tension developed in the vessels by a rapidly transpiring plant is thought to be sufficient to draw water through the root from the soil. The precise pathway taken by the water is the subject of some debate, but the path of least resistance seems to be in or between the cell walls rather than through the cells.

When transpiration is slow, e.g. at night time or just before bud burst in a deciduous tree, then osmosis may play a more important part in the uptake of water.

One problem for this explanation is that it has not been possible to demonstrate that there is an osmotic gradient across the root cortex which could produce this flow of water from cell to cell. Nevertheless, root pressure developed probably by osmosis can be shown to force water up the root system and into the stem

page 76

The methods by which roots take up salts from the soil are not fully understood. Some salts may be carried in with the water drawn up by transpiration and pass mainly along the cell walls in the root cortex and into the xylem.

It may be that diffusion from a relatively high concentration in the soil to a lower concentration in the root cells accounts for uptake of some individual salts. But it has been shown (a) that salts can be taken from the soil even when their concentration is below that in the roots and (b) that anything which interferes with respiration impairs the uptake of salts. This suggests that active transport (p.35) plays an important part in the uptake of salts.

The thing that becomes clear from reading the established explanations for water transport is that if it were a bucket, very little water would be transported due to the large number of holes in it !

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8 years 11 months ago #457 by Andrew
[Another theory is that the leaves, which are porous, can somehow suck water from the soil and evaporate it through the pores of the leaves? Ever tried sucking on a straw with a hole in it?]
I don't get it Is there a typo here or am I terminally thick?

Andrew K Fletcher, I don't get it either!
Strange, I thought everyone would be rushing in to defend these pathetic substitutes for common sense


Posted - 17 Apr 2005 : 10:16:38

I think you'll find that is supposed to read, "...leaves, which are porous, can somehow suck water from the air and evaporate it..."

This is true. Plants absorb nutrients from a liquid foliar feed faster than from the root system. it is even possilbe to force feed too much by this method.
Imagine, if you will, the effect and absorption rate of a drug which is spread over the entire surface of one's skin, compared to that ingested. the differences would be radical.

Andrew K Fletcher
Posted - 17 Apr 2005 : 15:38:34

Nope, the cohesion theory states the long thin threads of water are drawn up to replace the evaporated water,

But there is definitely a mechanism for trees to draw water from the atmosphere. I removed a budlia. The trunk had virtually rotted in half and the small shrub like tree fell with very little effort. It remained on my drive throughout the end of last summer and appeared to be dead. The drive is concrete btw. I removed it a few weeks ago to the tip and was amazed to find that it had began growing vertically, despite having no root system and had been thoroughly dehydrated during the summer. I was also amazed at a new species of magnolia, which came from a seed found in a grain storage container, found buried in one of the Egyptian Pyramids.

The bit about absorption though the skin is something I am familiar with and have used to good effect a freshly squeezed lemon, rubbed over my body when I feel a cold coming on, it either vanishes or does not infect me, even though the people around me have it :)

Still does nothing for the conventional theories.
Good point though

Andrew K Fletcher
Posted - 23 Apr 2005 : 11:48:42

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8 years 11 months ago - 8 years 11 months ago #458 by Andrew
What is the purpose of the massive loss of water in the transpiration process? 98% all water drawn through the roots is evaporated through the leaves and trunk. So what is the purpose of this? And what about the massive loss of moisture from the respiratory system, eyes and the skin, Anyone shed some light on its function? Andrew



Normally the proportion of xylem to leaves supplied by that xylem is greater in plants growing in dry habitats than in plants found in wet ones and may be as much as 700 times greater in certain desert plants than in aquatic plants and herbs of relatively humid forest floors. The velocity of sap movement in trees varies throughout a 24-hour period. ... Peak velocities correlate with vessel size; the rate of sap flow in trees with small vessels is about 2 metres (7 feet) per hour; that in trees with large vessels, about 50 metres (160 feet) per hour. The energy required to lift water in both cases is comparable; in trees with large pores, water simply moves faster through fewer and larger vessels.

It was demonstrated about 1900 that living cells of the stem are not responsible for water movement. That living cells are not responsible for the water movement might be correct in the same sense as living cells are not a necessary condition
for e.g. DNA replication. Polymerase enzymes are able to carry out this function also in vitro. The crucial question however is, whether the behaviour of polymerase enzymes is consistent with the predictions of statistical physics.

It is now generally recognized that water in the xylem moves passively along a gradient of decreasing pressures. It is clear that in vertical tubes filled with water, gradients of decreasing pressures upwards are unavoidable. But such gradients do
certainly not lead to upwards forces on the water molecules. On the contrary the gradients are the result of downwards forces. Under certain special conditions, water is pushed up the stem by root pressure.

If water is pushed up the stem, then the molecules which produce the root pressure must perform "uphill" movements, i.e. they must move against a force and lose the energy which is converted into potential energy of the pushed water. Such "uphill" movements must not be taken for granted.

Most of the time, however, water is pulled into the leaves by transpiration. A gradient of decreasing pressures from the base to the top of a tree can be measured, even though pressures are low. Isn't this "transpiration pull" hypothesis dreadfully incredible?

The kinetic energy of water molecules corresponds to a certain statistical distribution. Those surface molecules with the highest energy evaporate. Because of momentum conservation the water in the pores of the leaves suffers rather a downwards push than an upwards pull from upwards evaporating water molecules.

From a purely quantitative point of view, the explanation seems plausible. For a gram of water to evaporate, around 2000 Joules are needed. For a vertical transport over 100 m however, only 1 Joule is needed for the same quantity of water. From the fact that water is transported in huge trees after very dry winters before the leaves emerge, we conclude that another mechanism of water transport must exist.

A vacuum pump cannot pull water to a height of more than 10 metres (about 33 feet). ... The hypothesis that water is pulled upward along a pressure gradient during transpiration has been called the cohesion theory. Two critical requirements of the cohesion mechanism of water ascent are
(1) sufficient cohesive strength of water and
(2) existence: of tensions (i.e., pressures below zero) and tension gradients in stems of transpiring trees.

Although the tensile strength of water is very high, an excessive pull exerted on a water column will break it. The tallest trees are about 100 metres (330 feet) high. A non-moving water column at an atmospheric pressure of 1 atmosphere at the base of the tree is exposed to a pressure of -9 atmospheres (i.e., a tension of 9 atmospheres) at the top If the pressure at the top drops to -25 atmospheres.

Negative pressures in the context of water seems a rather strange and questionable concept. Isn't normally an atmospheric pressure of (almost) zero enough to separate all water molecules from each other? It has been demonstrated that water columns in the xylem can withstand this tension, or pull, without breaking.

Maybe it is the actual mechanism of the xylem transport system which is responsible for the fact that water columns do not break, and not this strange "cohesion hypothesis".

Negative pressures and gradients of negative pressures have been shown to exist in trees with an ingeniously simple device called the pressure bomb. A small twig is inserted in a container (the pressure bomb), its cut stump emerging from a tightly sealed hole. As pressure is applied to the container and gradually increased, water from the xylem emerges from the cut end as soon as the pressure being applied is equal to the xylem tension that existed when the twig was cut.

If I understand correctly, then "pressure bomb" reasoning is based on a rather dubious premise: it is assumed that the resistance against pushing water through the twig in leaves-root-direction results from a one-directional xylem tension. I suppose there is also a resistance in the opposite direction (when trying to increase the natural flow of water in the twig).

So the question "how does water really reach the the tops of trees" is still open.

Wolfgang Gottfried G.

I feel I have something new to add to this field and wander if others find the accepted explanations for fluid transport somewhat confusing. Has anyone developed a working model which demonstrates a lift of water higher that the 10 metre limit set down in the physics literature some three hundred years ago? Andrew

Not as such. You would have to take a capillary tube full of water and draw it out to a vertical height greater than 10 m. The capillary would have to be strong enough not to collapse inward under the tension generated by the column of water. It would also have to be permeable to water to allow evaporation at the top and entry of water at the bottom. This can't
be done with synthetic materials.

What can be done is to measure the strength of water. Plant physiology texts describe experiments to do this. It turns out that columns of water in capillary tubes are strong enough to be pulled up tall trees.
Calculations based on surface tension also show that water columns should be very strong.

I have read about osmosis, capillary action and root pressure, but find them
lacking in scientific validity.

These phenomena are not enough to explain the ascent of sap. The theories behind them are valid enough, it is just that they are not relevant to explaining how sap gets up tall trees. Some text books are pretty misleading on these topics. The one you quote ( GCSE BIOLOGY, D.G. Mackean. ISBN 0-7195-4281-2 first published in 1986.) seems pretty
Bob Vickery vickery at mpx.com.au
Sat Mar 4 01:12:36 EST 2000

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Last edit: 8 years 11 months ago by Andrew.

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8 years 11 months ago #459 by Andrew

Re: How do Trees Really lift Water to their Leaves?
« Reply #4 on: 24/04/2005 20:42:52 »
There is a really good link that explains a lot about water transpot in plants here:

Plants do appear to waste a whole lot of water, I guess that is because they have to move a certain amount of minerals up the tree each day.

The xylae must be at a considerable negative pressure, so to move water etc from them into the leaves there must be much more salts and sugars in the leaves to draw the water by osmosis out of a xylem. this means that to get a decent difference you must need a very dilute solution in the xylem. So to move a given amount of nutrients up the tree you need to use lots of water.

I expect there are much more efficient ways of moving nutrients but they would involve changing an awful lot of evolution. Also if water is cheap but energy is expensive, why waste sugar moving the nutrients when you can do it with water and a bit of heat...

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8 years 11 months ago - 8 years 11 months ago #460 by Andrew
I agree that there may be a density change at the leaf, due to the very high evaporation rates from the sap, which contains sugars produced by the leaves and minerals drawn up in dilute form from the soils? In fact, it would be impossible for this massive loss of moisture to not alter the density of the sap at the leaf, would you agree with this statement?
Leaves do after all look more like washing hung out to dry than effective solar panels.

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8 years 11 months ago #461 by Andrew
Okay, now that I've found the other thread...

I was not disputing the cohesion theory; rather trying to make sense of the sentence in question.
[the leaves, which are porous, can somehow suck water from the soil]
A leaf cannot possibly suck water from the soil because it is not in contact with the soil. I assumed incorrectly that you were talking about osmosis. Although not the main method of fluid movement, it is still an important factor in a plant's survival.

{the leaves, which are porous, can somehow suck water from the soil}
Not all leaves look like this; it is dependant on how much sunlight is needed, and how much danger there is of being scorched.
Plants in areas with competition for light will usually have leaves which lie outstretched and will follow the sun's path to some extent. An easy example is the rubber plant, a jungle dweller which adapts itself singularly well to stuffy, ill-lit dens all over Scotland.
Take a eucalypt in Africa, however, and notice the immediate difference. Long narrow leaves which seemingly hang limp from the branches actually turn during the course of the day to piont the blade like edge toward the sun in an attempt to restrict water loss and scorching.

It seems that you fellows have given me quite a bit of reading to do.

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8 years 11 months ago #462 by Andrew
With regards to the direction that leaves face due to direction of sunlight or energy, could it be that the internal tension on sap is altered or imbalanced due to more tension on one side of a stem than the less exposed side, causing the stem to contort towards the direction of the energy? I.E. Shrinkage on one side of the relatively new stems in new growth supporting leaves.


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8 years 11 months ago - 8 years 11 months ago #463 by Andrew
Dave Shorts
What exactly does figure 9 show?
FIG 9 represents the standard drawing of osmosis in the GCSE Biol Book referenced above, nothing has changed.
I am not really convinced that gravity can have much affect on osmosis as osmosis will move water from an area of low salt (or other things which won't go through the membrane) concentration to one of high salt concentration whether it be up down or sideways.

I don't understand the argument above, if the salt is above the membrane, gravity can't cause it to move below the membrane as the membrane is by definition impermeable to the salt

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