Carbon and its impacts on life

Posted on Posted in Science & Engineering

Carbon is the fourth most abundant element in the universe and the backbone of life on earth. Most of the earth’s carbon, about 65,500 billion metric tons, is stored in rocks. The rest is in the ocean, atmosphere, plants, soil, and fossil fuels. All living things or organic matter consist of carbon atoms.

Carbon as a special element

The composition of carbon and other elements inside our body. Source: askabiologist.asu.edu

Carbon considered as a special element that can form so many different compounds due to its unique atomic structure. After oxygen, carbon is the second most common element of the total human body weight. We made of carbon, we eat food consists of carbon, and our civilizations – our economies, our homes, our means of transport – are built on carbon. Humans and animals eat plants that contain carbons and use them to create body tissues. They also produce carbon dioxide during respiration process. Plants, meanwhile, absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) for photosynthesis, produce carbohydrate molecules (sugar) and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

Carbon and the global warming

The composition of greenhouse gas. Source: EPA, US.

We need carbon, but that need also entwined with one of the most pressing problems facing us today: global warming and climate change. The recent climate change is a global-scale issue that has major implications for human and biological systems. It causes massive economic and environmental destructions, which often coupled with the loss of many human lives. This change of climate is driven primarily by the increase in the concentrations of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere. This increased GHG principally as a result of human activities by rapidly rising rates of combustion of fossil fuels and the changes in land use.

GHG emission causes greenhouse effect or global warming. Image: NASA
Two types of ultra-violet radiation. Carbon causes depletion of the ozone layer that allows UV-B (bad for human skin) to pass through.

Carbon cycle

The global carbon cycle is one of the major biogeochemical cycles, which divided into geological and biological cycles. The former operates on a timescale of millions of years while the latter involves thousands of years. Meanwhile, the biological cycle includes the living things through the processes of photosynthesis and respiration. Since all living organisms made of carbon compounds, the

Carbon-nitrogen cycle
Carbon, water and nitrogen interconnection

biological carbon cycle is, therefore, playing a vital role in the carbon exchange process. Both types of the carbon cycle are substantially dependent on the chemical reaction with the presence of water. The cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and water should also be considered. These three cycles are interconnected and playing significant roles in the carbon sequestration process both on land and in the ocean.

A simplified representation of the global carbon cycle. Changes measured in gigatons of carbon per year (GtC/y). Numbers in parentheses refer to stored carbon pools. Yellow numbers refer to natural carbon emissions. Red indicates carbon from human emissions. Graphic courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Genomic Science Program, http://genomicscience.energy.gov

Soil carbon

Soil profile with a conceptual model of carbon dynamics. Source: bgc-jena.mpg.de

Soils located between base rock, atmosphere, and vegetation. They represent a home of many organisms where various biogeochemical transformation and processes take place. Soils also have properties that enable them to store many substances, which crucial to sustaining human life and ecosystem processes. Therefore, soils have been a topic of scientific research for more than a century. Meanwhile, soil mechanics has become a major subject in the civil engineering study. The most important applications of soil science are the diagnostic and maintenance of soil fertility, particularly its dominant role in the terrestrial carbon balance. Considering the potential of soils to store carbon with almost unlimited capacity, we highly recommend scientific research works on this fascinating topic.

This article is an excerpt from Dr. Ab Nasir Jaafar recent book entitled Carbon and Its Impacts on Life

61 thoughts on “Carbon and its impacts on life

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