What is the Carbon Cycle?

What Does Ciclo del Carbono Mean

It is known as the carbon cycle to biogeochemical circuit exchange material (specifically carbon containing compounds) between the biosphere , pedosphere, the geosphere , the hydrosphere and the atmosphere of the Earth . It was discovered by European scientists Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier , and together with water and nitrogen, it is part of the cycles that allow the sustainability of life on our planet.



Since carbon (C) is a key element for life and for most known organic compounds, it is involved in numerous substances of organic (and inorganic) origin, in a continuous transmission that allows its reuse and recycling , sustaining the levels of this element in a global balance sheet.

Carbon in the world exists in different forms and areas : in mineral carbon reserves underground, in the form of inorganic carbon dissolved in sea water , in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (product of volcanic emissions or of respiration of living beings), in the processes of decomposition of organic matter in swamps and other lands.

Broadly speaking, carbon reserves are: atmospheric carbon, the content in the body of living beings in the biosphere (including marine and aquatic beings), carbon dissolved in seawater and deposited at the bottom of the oceans ; and mineral deposits in the earth's crust , including deposits of oil and other hydrocarbons .

The exchange routes between these deposits are:

  • The fermentation and decomposition processes . The large deposits of organic matter are rich in carbon and in organisms that live from the decomposition and transformation of said matter, obtaining energy in return and releasing gases into the atmosphere such as methane (CH 4 ) or CO 2 .
  • The respiration and photosynthesis . Together with other biotic metabolic processes, these processes release and capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, respectively, as a by-product or input of their biochemical pathways. Carbon in CO 2 is absorbed by plants and released along with water vapor during animal respiration .
  • The ocean gas exchange. The water in the oceans evaporates by the action of the sun, as established by the water cycle . In this process, the water vapor produced and released into the atmosphere also promotes the exchange of gases between the atmosphere and the ocean, which allows carbon to dissolve in the water, where it is fixed by photosynthetic plankton.
  • Sedimentation processes. Both on land and in the sea, the excess carbon in decomposing organic matter, which is not captured and processed by decomposing life forms, will pile up and settle at the bottom of the oceans or in the various layers of the earth's crust, where it forms fossils, hydrocarbon deposits or reactive sediments.
  • Natural combustion or by the hand of humanity. Human industrial processes and spontaneous forest fires must be taken into account in the carbon cycle, since they are responsible for the annual increase in carbon in the atmosphere, in the form of greenhouse gases. This is due to the burning of fossil fuels , the release of organic gases produced by human industry, or the eventual natural volcanic emissions.

All these processes occur at the same time and constitute a delicate balance cycle, which allows carbon to circulate in different environments and as part of substances of a very different nature. An interruption of this circuit means the impoverishment of many vital areas and, possibly, the end of life as we know it.

Go up