How are the carbon cycle and global warming connected?

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Oct 23, 2017


Carbon is released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide and methane, two greenhouse gases contributing to climate change. Carbon is also stored in photosynthetic vegetation, which we are removing.


  1. global cycling of carbon
    The image below shows a simplified carbon cycle.
    You can read about the carbon cycle in detail here.

  2. relevance to the issue of global warming
    Carbon exists in various forms, one of which is carbon dioxide. The relationship between carbon dioxide and global warming is explained fully here.

Carbon also exists as methane, which is another greenhouse gas contributing to climate change.

Forests are typically carbon sinks, meaning they store carbon. When they are removed, they release carbon into the atmosphere. Thus, deforestation contributes to increased amounts of carbon in the atmosphere and increased warming.

There is also the potential for feedback effects. For example, as the planet warms, the rate of decomposition will increase soils will release more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

To conclude, the carbon cycle and global warming are intimately connected, and a change in one portion of the carbon cycle leads to changes elsewhere. Burning fossil fuels removes carbon from the soil and releases it into the atmosphere. Removing trees, which take in carbon dioxide during photosynthesis, releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. These disruptions and others to the carbon cycle are key drivers of global warming and anthropogenic climate change.

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