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Carbon is an essential component of human life. We’re mostly made of carbon, eat carbon, and our economies, homes, and transportation systems are all carbon-based. The global carbon cycle, which is an important aspect of our planet’s overall health, transports carbon around the globe. However, as important as carbon is to the survival of our civilization, it also contributes significantly to one of the most serious threats to our planet: global warming and climate change. 

We’ll describe the carbon cycle in this article, explain how it works and how the Earth utilises it to manage greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and discuss how human activities are disrupting this global process.

Definition of Carbon Cycle 

The carbon cycle is a natural process that transports carbon compounds throughout the environment’s many deposits, or reservoirs. (The biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere are among these reservoirs.) Because all life on Earth utilises carbon molecules for basic biological functions, carbon atoms naturally cycle through reservoirs. 

Because Earth is a closed system, the total amount of carbon never changes, the carbon cycle occurs. What changes is the amount of carbon in each of those reservoirs at any given time. While the largest carbon deposits are found beneath the Earth’s surface in rocks and soil, carbon is also found in the oceans and the atmosphere. Plants and animals can obtain carbon from various sources to execute biological functions.

What Happens During the Carbon Cycle? 

Carbon can cycle via four natural processes as it passes through various reservoirs: 

  • Photosynthesis: Photosynthesis is the process by which plants absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) from the environment to make the sugars they require for survival, thereby transferring carbon from the air to plant matter. 
  • Decomposition: As dead plants and animals decompose, their carbon is released into the ground, where it finally hardens as sediment.
  • Respiration: Carbon is released into the atmosphere as a result of living organisms exhaling, obtaining oxygen from the air, or digesting plants. 
  • Combustion: The burning of fossil fuels and other carbon-based deposits releases energy and carbon into the atmosphere, whether through volcanic eruptions or fossil fuel-based energy systems (essentially turning dead organisms into fuel). 

The carbon cycle’s four phases work together to transport carbon throughout the environment. Keep in mind that because the carbon cycle is more of a system than a single activity, carbon does not have to pass through each step.

  • Photosynthesis converts carbon from the air into plant stuff. 
  • Respiration recycles carbon from plant materials back into the atmosphere. 
  • When creatures die, their carbon is decomposed and solidified underground. 
  • Combustion transports the subsurface carbon to the atmosphere, where it can be photosynthesized.

“Fast” Carbon Cycle 

The fast cycle refers to the processes in the carbon cycle that allow carbon to move swiftly through the environment and is measured in years. The fast cycle is made up of two steps: photosynthesis and respiration. The carbon is metabolised through the food chain, with plants acting as the catalyst. 

The chemicals are swiftly transferred between plant matter, animals, and the atmosphere due to the fast nature of biological processes. Although very little carbon is transferred at each individual spin in the fast cycle, the overall amount handled each year is more than in the slow cycle due to the speed of the process.

“Slow” Carbon Cycle

The slow carbon cycle is the exchange of carbon compounds between the atmosphere and the Earth (where it is stored in the ocean, rocks, and soil). It can take millions of years. The carbon cycle processes of breakdown and combustion are primarily involved in this process.

  • Slow cycling is mostly caused by natural processes within the Earth, such as tectonics and internal chemical reactions. 
  • Rain sends carbonic acid-containing molecules into the soil and oceans, where they begin to develop into carbon-storing rocks. 
  • A factor is the merging of decaying organic material from the rapid cycle as it goes underground over time. 

While a single journey transports more carbon than its faster brother, the slow cycle processes less carbon per year than the fast cycle because it is more gradual. 

The Importance Of The Carbon Cycle 

Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, is the most frequent carbon component in the carbon cycle. Greenhouse gases are heavy enough to remain in the atmosphere, trapping heat energy that would otherwise be lost to space. More energy is trapped in the atmosphere as more greenhouse gases accumulate.

It is critical to have certain greenhouse gases in order to keep our planet at a habitable temperature. Earth would be far too cold for life to flourish without a warm atmosphere. However, too much greenhouse gas accumulation can result in global warming. Overall temperatures rise as a result, and extreme weather events occur. 

The natural carbon cycle regulates the amount of carbon atoms in the atmosphere, preventing global warming. However, human action has the potential to interrupt this natural cycle.

Carbon Recycling Aids Life on Earth 

A healthy earth and a healthy existence for everyone who lives on it require a well functioning carbon cycle. To maintain the balance between plant, animal, and insect life, the Earth needs a means to disperse carbon on a regular basis across our ecosystem. Human activities, on the other hand, have disrupted the cycle, releasing millions of pounds of surplus carbon compounds into the atmosphere, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. 

The good news is that you can reduce your carbon impact by taking steps. You can limit your contribution to rising emissions by making more ecologically conscientious decisions.