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.

Teaching the Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon enters and exits the earth’s atmosphere. Carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, and along with other gases, acts as a warming layer for Earth. Without this layer of gases, the Earth would be too cold to sustain life. There are many carbon cycle models and carbon cycle demonstration kits available to assist in the explanation of this process. Below is a basic explanation of the carbon cycle.

The Carbon Cycle

Carbon is released into the environment in many ways. Animals and plants respire, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Animals release solid waste products into the soil and water. Also, leaves, roots, wood and dead animals decay. Finally, the burning of fossil fuels and wood release stored carbon into the atmosphere.

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. Plants and algae take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. 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.

The Ocean’s Role

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.