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What Is the Carbon Cycle?

Carbon is recycled from the atmosphere into plants and other living things. Carbon dioxide, for example, is a contaminant in the atmosphere. However, it is also the most vital component of all living organisms, including glucose. Furthermore, people may repurpose carbon into hydrocarbons over millions of years. Thus, it is the carbon cycle across time.

As a result, carbon exists in various forms, including glucose in plants, carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and hydrocarbons such as coal.

But today, we’ll focus on the short-term carbon cycle, in which carbon cycles through the ecosystem in a matter of days, months, or years.


Photosynthesis allows plants to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Even though CO2 makes up less than 1% of the atmosphere, it significantly impacts living organisms.

Photosynthesis generates carbohydrates such as glucose from CO2 and H2O in the atmosphere. It is the plant material produced by plants on its own.

If the appropriate conditions are met, this process can last for millennia. So it is because photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and provides energy to all living things.


Plants may develop by primarily utilizing sunshine, water, and carbon dioxide. Animals, in turn, use food for energy, producing O2 and emitting CO2. Alternatively, they die, rot, and degrade, a process that continues for millions of years.

The process of breaking down plants is known as decomposition. Layers of silt accumulate over long periods. Fossil fuels are produced as a result of the pressure and heat generated inside the Earth’s crust. Much of this took place during the Carboniferous Period.

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Coal, oil, and natural gas (methane) are examples of standard fossil fuels. The long-term decomposition of dead materials produces these fossil fuel compounds.

Bacteria decompose organic materials such as glucose into CO2 and methane via anaerobic decomposition (CH4). Through decomposition, the nutrient cycle recycles inorganic and organic material in the soil. Then it goes through the same procedure all over again.


We’re both carbon, you and me. It is because plants are what we eat. However, humans also breathe in air, which contains carbon in the form of carbon dioxide.

Plants provide food, energy, and oxygen to animals. Through cellular respiration, our cells require oxygen to break down the food we ingest.

Carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere as a byproduct of cell respiration after it has been consumed. It can then utilize this CO2 created by respiring cells in photosynthesis once more.

In other words, plants use solar energy to break down the same carbon dioxide in the air. It utilizes the same carbon for plant material through photosynthesis, releasing it in the process.


Our automobiles make use of the energy provided by the combustion of fossil fuels. Therefore, carbon, like carbon dioxide, is a pollutant.

We obtain fossil fuels, and combustion is the process of burning them to release energy. However, as a byproduct of burning, carbon dioxide is released back into the environment. Furthermore, too much CO2 enhances the greenhouse effect.

Because we deplete our oil sources and emit CO2 into the atmosphere daily, the carbon cycle suffers from an oxygen-carbon imbalance. CO2 is a greenhouse gas that affects climate change.

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However, there is a limit to the number of fossil fuels we can extract. It is because phytoplankton on the ocean’s surface photosynthesizes and absorbs CO2 over millions of years.

It uses sunlight to make a glucose molecule (C6H12O6), which sinks to the ocean’s bottom. These fossil fuels were found under the ocean by humans. We began drilling for old plankton, which evolved into the oil we use today millions of years ago.

Summary of the Long-Term Carbon Cycle

You now understand how carbon moves from the atmosphere to plants and living beings. The difference between short-term and long-term carbon cycles is that the long-term carbon cycle takes millions of years to complete.

Rather than being converted into sugars, carbon gets repurposed into fossil fuels such as coal. Plants form hydrocarbons after being buried and crushed for millions of years.

When you drive a gas-powered automobile, you are tapping into Earth’s carbon stores, which were deposited hundreds of millions of years ago. These fossil fuels emit carbon dioxide and water vapor into the atmosphere.

It may linger in the atmosphere for a long, but plants eventually absorb it through photosynthesis. As a result, photosynthesis converts the equivalent weight of fuel from the tank into wood or plant material.

The Cycle of Carbon

Carbon is found in seas, the atmosphere, rocks such as limestone and coal, soils, and all living things. Carbon on our dynamic planet can travel from one of these domains to another as part of the carbon cycle.

Carbon is transferred from the atmosphere to plants and combined with oxygen to form carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is extracted from the air through photosynthesis to make carbon-based nourishment for plant development.

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Carbon is transferred from plants to mammals. Carbon from plants passes through food chains to the creatures who eat them. Animals that consume other animals absorb carbon from their diet as well.

Carbon is transferred from plants and animals to the soil. When they die, their bodies release carbon into the environment. Some are buried and will decompose into fossil fuels over billions of years.

Carbon is transferred from living organisms to the atmosphere. When you exhale, you emit carbon dioxide gas (CO2) into the environment. Animals and plants must expel carbon dioxide gas through a process known as respiration.

When we use fossil fuels, carbon is released into the atmosphere. When people burn fossil fuels to power industries, power plants, automobiles, and trucks, most carbon is immediately released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide gas. Each year, the combustion of fossil fuels emits 5.5 billion tons of CO2. 3.3 billion tons of this tremendous quantity remain in the atmosphere. The majority of the residue dissolves in saltwater.

Carbon is transferred from the atmosphere to the seas. These bodies of water absorb part of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. As a result, the carbon has been dissolved in water.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere. Earth would be a frozen world without it and other greenhouse gases. However, people have used so much fuel and emitted so much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution around 150 years ago that the global climate has increased by more than one degree Fahrenheit. 

According to ice core research, the atmosphere has not retained this much carbon for at least 420,000 years. Thus, the recent increase in greenhouse gas levels, such as carbon dioxide, has a substantial influence on global warming.

Carbon also flows across our world on more extended time frames. For example, the weathering of rocks on land over millions of years can contribute carbon to surface water, which eventually washes off into the ocean. Likewise, carbon is extracted from saltwater over lengthy periods when the shells and bones of marine creatures and plankton accumulate on the seafloor. 

These shells and bones are constructed of carbon-rich limestone. Carbon is sequestered from the rest of the carbon cycle when deposited on the seafloor for some time. The quantity of limestone deposited in the ocean is influenced by the number of warm, tropical, shallow waters on the Earth. It is where prolific limestone-producing animals like corals dwell. If the limestone melts or metamorphoses in a subduction zone, carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

Help the Earth by building a sustainable home to help lessen the carbon. To achieve that, you can contact Daniel Roberts.


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Daniel Roberts
Chartered Quantity Surveyor, founder of Quantus Solutions a boutique multi disciplinary company.

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