The Carbon Cycle

When organisms die, forests blaze, volcanoes erupt, or fossil fuels are burned, the carbon stored in these entities is released back into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide. Carbon is constantly traveling from the atmosphere to the earth and back to the atmosphere, this concept is called the carbon cycle, and is nature’s way of reusing carbon atoms. This process happens very slowly, it can take thousands of years for the carbon released into the atmosphere to make its way back into geological reserves (CLEAR Center). 

💡Quick chemistry: On its journey from air, to earth, to ocean, carbon bonds with different atoms and changes states from solid to liquid to gas. 

  • Solid: When rocks are exposed to carbon dioxide, a chemical reaction occurs between the metals in the rock (ex: magnesium or calcium) and the gaseous CO2, forming solid carbon compounds called carbonates. This process as a whole is called carbon mineralization, and is essential for understanding carbon storage, enhanced rock weathering, and biochar production. 
  • Liquid: When carbon dioxide (CO2) dissolves in the ocean it bonds with water molecules (H2O) to form carbonic acid. In the ocean, carbonic acid breaks up further to form hydrogen ions and bicarbonate ions that contribute to ocean acidification. 
  • Gas: During combustion, carbon combines with oxygen in the air to form carbon dioxide and water vapor. (Biology Advanced Concepts)

You might be wondering, if nature is naturally recycling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and storing it in rocks and the ocean…why is it so important that we remove and store it ourselves? Watch this space for a deeper look into the dangers of excess CO2 in our atmosphere.

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