Carbon Cycle

The carbon cycle shows how carbon, in all of its various forms, moves between plants, animals, oceans, and the atmosphere. The graphic shows how carbon moves. When it’s in the atmosphere, carbon is combined with two oxygen atoms making a molecule called carbon dioxide (CO2). Plants absorb carbon dioxide and sunlight to make their own food. This process is called photosynthesis. During photosynthesis, carbon becomes part of the plant, and the plant releases oxygen. When plants die and are buried under layers of earth for millions of years, they may turn into fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

When these fuels are burned, the carbon is released back into the atmosphere. Some of it is released as carbon monoxide (where carbon is combined with only one oxygen atom), which is a poisonous gas. The rest combines with two oxygen atoms to again form CO2. Animals do just the opposite of plants. They inhale air from the atmosphere, use the oxygen, and exhale CO2.

As the world has industrialized over the past 150 years, man is causing much more carbon to be released into the atmosphere. This additional carbon is what some scientists believe could be causing our earth to warm up and causing global warming or what is now being referred to as climate change. To help fight this warming, many people are looking for ways to reduce the amount of carbon we produce and for ways to remove carbon that is already present.