The Carbon Cycle
There are certain things needed for survival such as food, water, clothing, shelter, oxygen, and other basic needs. However, all living organisms need an element called carbon. Carbon is the basic building block of all living things. On the Periodic Table of Elements, it is described as a nonmetal that has two main forms, diamond and graphite. It is a very abundant element. It is the base of all organic compounds and are the essential parts of cells of living things. In fact, 18% of the weight of a human body includes carbon.
Carbon is necessary for providing energy: for your body, in industry, for combustion in automobiles, for generating energy and much more. The energy that is necessary for all living things comes from the Sun. However, humans and other animals cannot get the energy directly from the Sun, but plants, algae, and a few types of bacteria use sunlight as a direct source of energy. The plants take in carbon and oxygen (CO2) and combined with the energy from the Sun, plants can make their own food. The process is called photosynthesis.
In addition, carbon, like water and other substances, moves around the Earth and is exchanged between living things, dead things, and the air through the carbon cycle. The cycle includes sources, sinks, and reservoirs, which are the places carbon can be found and stored.
Carbon sources are those that release carbon into the atmosphere, and they include volcanic eruptions, respiration of animals (breathing), decaying dead matter, burning of fossil fuels, warm bodies of water, and other natural processes. Carbon sinks are those that absorb carbon from the atmosphere such as plants, algae, cold bodies of water, and landfills. Carbon reservoirs include the storage of carbon from the atmosphere including the earth's atmosphere, oceans, organic elements like rocks, and volcanoes and geothermal areas.
The carbon cycle includes the exchange of carbon between various organic and inorganic elements between and within the atmosphere and the biosphere (Earth). And just like all of Earth's cycles, there is not a specific starting or ending point. Carbon moves from the atmosphere to plants used for photosynthesis, and then from plants to animals, where the carbon is transferred into the bodies, and when plants and animals die, the remains decay and decompose, and the carbon is absorbed into the soil. The carbon remaining in the ground for thousands of years converts to fossil fuels like oil and gas.
The cycle continues as living things breathe and carbon is sent back into the atmosphere, and the burning of fossil fuels, wood, or other objects result in carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere. From the atmosphere, the cool water in oceans and other large bodies of water absorb some of the carbon from the atmosphere. The warmer water, as stated earlier, releases the carbon into the air, and the cycle can begin again as the plants absorb it for photosynthesis.
The cycle is continuous and there is no specific order of the steps involved in the carbon cycle. In addition, carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas and traps heat in the atmosphere, and without it and other greenhouse gases, the Earth would be too cold to live.
There is an imbalance between the sources and sinks of carbon with too much being released and not enough being absorbed. This has led to the Earth becoming warmer, leading to global warming. The carbon cycle and all the Earth cycles are necessary for the survival of plants, animals, and the planet itself. Carbon is the basic building block of all living things.
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