What is the Carbon Cycle?
All living things are made of carbon and it is found in the oceans, air, and rocks. Carbon moves between all these things in a great cycle over long periods of time. This cycle is one of the most important ones in helping Earth sustain life on it. It allows carbon to move through every ecosystem, sustaining life in them. Plants need carbon dioxide in the air for photosynthesis to occur, which creates oxygen and carbohydrates. Animals need the oxygen to breathe and the carbohydrates to be nourished.
What are Carbon Sinks?
This graph shows the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in 1750, the amount there as of 2012, how much has been given off since then, and how much has been absorbed by carbon sinks on land and in the ocean. A carbon sink is anything that absorbs more carbon than it releases. These sinks are very important in keeping the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at manageable levels. Common carbon sinks are undisturbed forests and soils, oceans, untapped fossil fuel wells, and photosynthesis of terrestrial plants. These are all natural carbon sinks. There are also a few man-made ones such as landfills and carbon capture and storage proposals.
Why are Carbon Sinks important? - Global Warming
This graph looks at the CO2 in the atmosphere versus the temperature increase in degrees Celsius. The bottom of the graph is the years (green) with the green line in the graph representing the average temp over 50 years from 1850-1900, as a baseline. The red line is the temperature change over 150 years. The blue line is the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere measured in parts per million. Scientific study has shown that the earth is warming and that climate change is occurring. (For more on the intricate specifics, please check out the International Panel on Climate Change’s website, http://www.ipcc.ch/ , and their most recent report, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/#.Us2D87Q5CSo. A summary of important key points and findings in less technical terms may be found here- http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2013/09/the-new-ipcc-climate-report/.) Much of this change is driven by humans releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate. Carbon sinks come into play here as they help reduce the amount of carbon residing in the atmosphere that causes the Earth’s overall temperature to rise. These changes are causing the polar ice caps to melt, frequent droughts in some place, and increased precipitation in others.
An important distinction is the difference between climate and weather. Weather is what it is like every day outside. This can fluctuate wildly from day to day with many highs and lows over the course of time. Climate on the other hand is the average overall pattern of weather over months and years. Climate determines if you live in the Arctic tundra or Amazon Rainforest. Weather determines if it is 85 and sunny one day or 45 and raining the next day.