The Basics of the Carbon Cycle

The Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle is the way carbon is distributed in the earth.

In the image, you can see the flow of carbon between land, atmosphere, and ocean. The numbers show, in gigatons of carbon per year, the natural fluxes of carbon (the yellow numbers), the human contributions (red numbers), and stored carbon (white numbers).

Releasing Carbon

Respiration

Humans and other mammals breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.

Waste and Decay

Carbon can be released into the environment through waste and decay. Animals produce solid waste products that go into the soil and water, while leaves, roots, wood and dead animals decay.

Burning

Burning fossil fuels and wood releases stored carbon into the atmosphere.

Using Carbon

The carbon that is released into the environment is used by many plants and animals. This is the part of the carbon cycle that removes carbon from the atmosphere.

Photosynthesis

Plants and algae take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis.

The majority of photosynthesis  occurs in the oceans by algae and phytoplankton. Also, due to the large surface area of the oceans, carbon dioxide diffuses in and out in an attempt to equalize.

Shells and bones

Many sea creatures take in carbon when making shells and bones. When these animals die and sink to the ocean floor, this carbon is stored for some time.

Questions

What are your questions about the carbon cycle? What are your students’ hardest questions? We’ll be answering your queries as we explore the carbon cycle more in the next few articles.

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