Carbon is what we're made of, and it's in our atmosphere. It also helps control the Earth's temperature. And not just that — it's part of a process that's vital for all life on Earth. It's called the carbon cycle.
Here are five things you need to know:
- The carbon cycle. Is it a gas-powered bicycle? No, it's not that. It's the process of atoms of carbon going from the Earth to the atmosphere and back again. We live on a planet that is basically a closed loop, a giant greenhouse if you like, and all of the carbon on Earth is still the same amount we've always had, but the quantity of carbon in the air or the ground is constantly changing.
- On Earth, carbon can be stored in the rocks and sediments, our seas or in us or other creatures and organisms, which all act as carbon reservoirs where they're stored. When organisms or people die, fossil fuels are burned. When forests go up in flames or plants decompose, the carbon within is released back into the atmosphere.
- The oceans also store the carbon and release it. We all need carbon to survive. It's part of our DNA and protein molecules. In fact, it's the building block of all life on Earth. The carbon cycle is Mother Nature's way of reusing and spreading the carbon around, releasing it naturally over time. Dead organisms decompose, eventually becoming fossil fuels such as oil and gas trapped underground. When we burn it, the carbon stored inside is released again into the atmosphere.
- Normally, this natural process would be slow and balanced, but when humans evolved, the desire and need to grow and prosper led to innovation, technology and the need to power it all. So fossil fuels provided the answer, but it led to an unprecedented release of carbon, interrupting the natural process that had been in effect for eons of the Earth's development. In fact, we've released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than at any time in over 800,000 years of the Earth's history.
- And that's troubling because climatologists, scientists and biologists are all ringing the warning bell as the plants and oceans can't absorb the carbon fast enough. That's leading to more acidic oceans affecting sea life and increased global temperatures and sea-level rise to name a few.
The carbon cycle is an incredible and beautiful process that's vital for all creatures and life on our planet. The more we understand just how important it is, the more likely we are to take better care to release less carbon so that we're less of the problem and more of the solution that Mother Nature needs us to be.