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Carbon is an abundant
element that is necessary for life
on Earth. All living things are
made up of carbon.
The carbon cycle is the
exchange of carbon between all
of the earth’s components—the
atmosphere, oceans and rivers,
rocks and sediments, and living
things .
The processes of photosynthesis and
respiration are the basis of the carbon cycle. In
photosynthesis, plants use energy from the sun and
carbon dioxide (CO2) gas from the atmosphere to
create carbohydrates (sugars) and oxygen (O2).
Carbohydrates are then stored (or sequestered) in
their biomass (living parts, such as leaves, stems,
and roots) as plants live and grow.
Stored carbohydrates can be used as energy. To use the
energy, carbohydrates need to be broken down in respiration and
CO2 is released back into the atmosphere. The rate at which CO2 is
produced is variable.

For example, decomposition— where fungi and

microorganisms break down carbohydrates to gather energy— is a
slow but significant way that carbon is returned to the atmosphere.
The carbon cycle involves the flux, or flow, of
carbon between different earth systems. An object or
process that absorbs and stores carbon is called a
sink, while one that releases carbon faster than it is
absorbed is termed a source.
For example, a healthy plant is a carbon sink because
it is taking in CO2 from the air and storing it in new leaves
and roots and a larger stem. However, a plant can become a
source of carbon if the amount of CO2 going out exceeds the
amount taken in. This might happen if a plant is eaten and an
animal utilizes its carbon for energy or if CO2 is sent back
into the atmosphere through decomposition or fire.
1. Carbon is found in the atmosphere mostly as carbon
dioxide. Animal and plant respiration place carbon into the
atmosphere. When you exhale, you are placing carbon
dioxide into the atmosphere.
2. Carbon is found in the lithosphere in the form of carbonate
rocks. Carbonate rocks came from ancient marine plankton
that sunk to the bottom of the ocean hundreds of millions
of years ago that were then exposed to heat and pressure.
Carbon is also found in fossil fuels, such as petroleum
(crude oil), coal, and natural gas. Carbon is also found in
soil from dead and decaying animals and animal waste.
3. Carbon is found in the biosphere stored in plants and
trees. Plants use carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make
the building blocks of food during photosynthesis.

4. Carbon is found in the hydrosphere dissolved in ocean

water and lakes. Carbon is used by many organisms to
produce shells. Marine plants use carbon for photosynthesis.
The organic matter that is produced becomes food in the
aquatic ecosystem.
Humans have a large impact on the worldwide carbon cycle.
Fossil fuels, including coal, oil, and natural gas, all contain large
amounts of carbon that was formed during the decomposition of plants
and animals over millions of years. Burning fossil fuels releases large
amounts of CO2 and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere
faster than natural processes. Changes in land use, especially
deforestation, also contribute to elevated levels of atmospheric CO2.
Although plants absorb some of the additional CO2, most of the
greenhouse gases remain in the atmosphere and contribute to climate
• To use satellites and metrological instruments to measure the flux of
CO2 in the air.

• To measure the amount of carbon present in samples from plants,

trees, soil, and other components and scale those up to a regional or
worldwide level.

Using these methods scientists have been able to determine the

approximate quantities and fluxes involved in the global carbon cycle.
However, the precise size of many sources and sinks is still unclear
because of the complexity of the systems involved.
• CARBON- is produced by both natural and human-made
(anthropogenic) sources. (All living things are made up of
carbon. )
• CARBON CYCLE- The movement of carbon from one area to
• PHOTOSYNTHESIS- the process by which green plants and
some other organisms use sunlight to synthesize foods from
carbon dioxide and water.
• RESPIRATION- a process in living organisms involving the
production of energy, typically with the intake of oxygen and
the release of carbon dioxide from the oxidation of complex
organic substances
• CARBOHYDRATES- any of various neutral compounds of
carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen (such as sugars, starches, and
celluloses) most of which are formed by green plants.
• CARBON FLUX(FLUX)- is the amount of carbon exchanged
between Earth's carbon pools - the oceans, atmosphere, land,
and living things.
• SINK- an object or process that absorbs and stores carbon
• SOURCE- releases carbon faster than it is absorbed.