Carbon Cycle Facts

The Carbon Cycle is when there are carbon compounds that are moved into the environment. Photosynthesis turns carbon dioxide into the atmosphere using respiration. This happens by burning fossil fuels and when organisms die and decay.

carboncycle sm

Carbon dioxide is used by plants so that they can make their own food.

With sun and carbon dioxide, the plants use it to make a food called sugar, and then they release oxygen into the air.

Atoms of carbon are always moving around, and so the carbon is used all over our planet.

Some things put carbon in the air, and some things take carbon out of the air.

Carbon Cycle Facts for Kids:

  • Carbon is a basis for life for all living organisms on Earth
  • Use by plants to make food through a process called photosynthesis
  • Algae and green plants are the chief agents of carbon dioxide fixation
  • Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in our universe
  • It makes up around 20% of the wright of all living things
  • Too much carbonic acid can make acid rain.
  • When there are a lot of plants in one area, it removes a lot of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere so that it can make food.
  • Many scientists believe that more than 99% of all the things that are living on Earth are made up of carbon.
  • Carbon can come in the form of gas and in sugar, and both of them are equally important to the Earth.
  • Carbon is always being recycled and reused.
  • Shells and oil fields that are made of organic material that never decomposed will eventually turn back into carbon, but it is much slower than things that are living.
  • No living things other than bacteria, plants, and algae use the sun as a direct source of energy.
  • Without carbon dioxide, plants and trees would not be able to make their own food.
  • Carbon can make other compounds.
  • Sugars, carbohydrates, and the DNA in our bodies and our cells all have carbon in them.
  • For people to make energy, there has to be carbon.
  • Carbon is necessary to make fuel for automobiles.
  • One form of carbon is diamonds.
  • Humans have to have carbon for their metabolism.
  • The carbonic acid that is in the ocean or sea can help animals in the ocean to make their shells.  This is only when there is the right amount of carbonic acid.

Why Is Carbon Important?

Carbon is essential because it is part of the life of all living things.

The element of carbon is so important that living things such as animals are sometimes called “carbon-based” life forms.

What Takes Carbon Out of the Air?

Different things in nature take carbon out of the atmosphere, and this is called “carbon sinks.”

There are various ways that carbon sinks happen such as:

  • The ocean-The water in the ocean removes a lot of the carbon out of the air.  This happens because the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reacts with water in the sea, and it makes what is called carbonic acid.
  • Photosynthesis-Carbon dioxide, water, and the sun all help the plant to use photosynthesis.  Photosynthesis helps the plants to grow.  With the carbon, water, and sun, the plants can make food that is sugar, and then it can release the oxygen back into the air for people to breathe.

What Puts Carbon into the Atmosphere?

Combustion – A coal-fired power station in Lincolnshire in the United Kingdom.

Just like different things take carbon out of the air, other things put carbon in the air.  When its put back into the atmosphere, it is called “sources.”

Sources happen with:

  • Combustion-when people burn things such as fossil fuels, trees, or even plants. This is called combustion.  When combustion happens, the carbon in these things is released back into the air.
  • Respiration-When anything that is living breathes, it is turning the oxygen that they breathe into carbon dioxide.  When this happens, it is called breathing.  Breathing releases carbon dioxide into the air.
  • Decay-When something decays, it means that it dies and goes back into the Earth.  When something dies and goes back into the Earth, the carbon that was in its body is released, and this goes back into the air.

Carbon Dioxide Changes in the Atmosphere

Carbon dioxide is a gas, called a greenhouse gas.

This gas traps heat in the atmosphere.

The gas is used to heat the Earth so that the Earth is not frozen.

Another change that happens with carbon is when a lot of trees and plants are cut down.

When this happens, it can cause there to be less oxygen because there are not enough trees and plants to remove the carbon dioxide from the air.

How Does Carbon Dioxide Get into the Atmosphere?

One way that carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere is when people burn fossil fuels such as coal and other gases.

So many gases have been burned that there is at least 30% more carbon dioxide in the air than there was many years ago.

How is Carbon in the Atmosphere Measured?

Scientists are able to look at the carbon dioxide or the CO2 with different instruments such as:

  • Atmospheric Infrared Sounder or the AIRS-this instrument is used to look at greenhouse gasses.
  • Tropospheric Emissions Spectrometer or the TES-measures carbon dioxide close to the Earth’s surface.
  • Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 or the OCO-2-this machine, looks at the carbon dioxide all over the Earth.  It moves from the North Pole to the South Pole and measures the carbon dioxide every sixteen days.

Carbon cycle Atmosphere

Other Things that Release Carbon into the Air:

  • When animals and people breathe.
  • When volcanoes erupt.
  • Warm bodies of water.
  • When rocks turn to other rocks such as limestone to lime.
  • When things decay.
  • When fossil fuels are burned.

Animals of the Carbon Cycle

Cows eat grass and absorb the carbon it contains; this carbon then re-enters the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.

When animals exhale, carbon dioxide re-enters the atmosphere. Carbon is also deposited in animal manure.

Animals have to eat because they are not able to make their own food like plants are.

So, animals eat plants and other animals.  When animals eat plants and animals, their bodies get the starch and the sugars from the plants and animals, and they use them for energy.

These molecules help the animal’s metabolism.

When the animal releases energy, the carbon is released back into the air, and then the plants will use it again.

Steps of the Carbon Cycle:

  1. Plants take the carbon from the water, air, and sunlight.
  2. The animals eat the plants or breath in the oxygen and then breathe out the carbon dioxide.
  3. The plants use carbon dioxide to make oxygen, and then the animals die and then decompose, and the carbon is released back into the atmosphere.

What Happens to the Animals of the Carbon Cycle?

When an animal dies, there are things called decomposers.  Decomposers such as fungi and bacteria will break down the animals when they die, or they also break down animal waste and dead plants and leaves.

These decomposers break down all of the chemicals that are in the animals and the organism’s bodies, and when they break them down, it releases more carbon dioxide into the air.  This type of carbon dioxide is called methane.

When decomposers do not break down the dead things, this happens:

  • Oil fields are made under the Earth’s surface.
  • Layers of rock are made of the animals that had shells.
  • These will slowly break down and will eventually release carbon back into the atmosphere.

emissions global carbon cycle

What Did You Learn?

  • What is the carbon cycle?  The carbon cycle is how carbon is always present in the atmosphere and how it is recycled between living things such as plants, animals, and humans and back into the air again.
  • Why is carbon important?  Our bodies and much of the things around us are made up of carbon.  Carbon is a necessary thing for us to be able to live and breathe.  Without carbon, plants would not be able to make their food, and therefore, people and animals would have nothing to eat and no oxygen to breathe.
  • Are the carbon cycle and the oxygen cycle-related?  Yes!  The carbon cycle and the oxygen cycle are very much intertwined.  When carbon is taken from the air by plants, the plant makes oxygen and releases it back into the atmosphere.  People breathe the oxygen in but release their carbon dioxide back into the air.  Both of these cycles are important for each other to work.
  • Do animals affect the carbon cycle?  Animals do affect the carbon cycle.  When animals eat plants or other animals, they absorb the carbon from these organisms, and they recycle the carbon back into the air by breathing, dying, and even when they make waste.
  • Do people affect the carbon cycle?  People can change the amount of carbon that is found in the atmosphere by the things they do.  If people burn too many fossil fuels, it can cause more carbon to be in the air.  If people cut down trees, it can cause less carbon dioxide to be absorbed by the trees and cause there to be less oxygen.