Interruption of carbon Cycle by human activities

The carbon cycle involves the movement of carbon between the atmosphere, the biosphere, the oceans and the geosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution approximately 150 years ago, carbon Cycle is greatly Interrupted by human activities such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation have begun to have an effect on the carbon cycle and the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Human activities affect the carbon cycle through carbon dioxide emissions (sources) and the removal of carbon dioxide (sinks). The carbon cycle can be affected when carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere or removed from the atmosphere.

Factors that effect carbon cycling

Burning of fossil fuels

Burning of fossil fuels leads to massive release of carbon dioxide in environment

When oil or coal is burned, carbon is released into the atmosphere at a faster rate than it is removed. As a result, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increases. Natural gas, oil, and coal are fossil fuels that are commonly burned to generate electricity in power plants, transportation, homes, and other industrial complexes. The main industrial activities that emit carbon dioxide and affect the carbon cycle are oil refining, paper, food and mineral production, mining and the production of chemical products.

Coal sequestration

When plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and store it, the process is called carbon sequestration. Agricultural and forestry methods can affect the amount of carbon dioxide that is removed from the atmosphere and stored by plants. These carbon dioxide sinks can be farms, grasslands, or forests. Human activity in the management of farmland or forests affects the amount of carbon dioxide that plants and trees remove from the atmosphere. These carbon dioxide sinks affect the carbon cycle by decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air.


Deforestation leads to decline in carbon sinks

Deforestation is the permanent removal of trees from forests. Permanent removal of trees means that new trees will not be replanted. This large-scale removal of trees from forests by people results in increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because trees no longer absorb carbon dioxide for photosynthesis. As a result, the carbon cycle is affected. According to National Geographic, agriculture is the main cause of deforestation. Farmers remove trees on a large scale to increase acreage and livestock.

Geological sequestration

Human activity can affect the carbon cycle by capturing carbon dioxide and storing it underground rather than allowing it to be released into the atmosphere. This process is called geological hijacking. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency. In the USA, geological sequestration could retain large amounts of carbon dioxide for long periods of time and, consequently, reduce soil carbon dioxide concentrations.

Effects of high levels of oxides of carbon in atmosphere

Too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not good for the planet or other living creatures. If humanity cannot reduce its CO2 production, the planet faces an uncertain future.

  • Disturbance in carbon cycle balance: The industrial revolution leading to the massive burning of fossil fuels for heat, transportation, and manufacturing is disrupting the carbon cycle balance severely (balance between carbon removal and addition in atmosphere).  An unbalanced carbon cycle threatens to alter climates and change land use and living habitats.
  • Effect on Central nervous system and respiratory problems: Carbon dioxide turns into a poisonous gas when there is too much in the air you breathe. In addition to the effects it can have on the planet and the atmosphere, carbon dioxide poisoning can cause damage to the central nervous system and respiratory decline in humans and other breathing creatures.
  • Green House Effect:
    Green House Effect by increased carbon dioxide

    The main threat from increased CO2 is the greenhouse effect. As a greenhouse gas, excess CO2 creates a covering that traps the sun’s thermal energy in the atmospheric bubble, heating the planet and the oceans. An increase in CO2 wreaks havoc on Earth’s climates by causing changes in weather patterns.

  • Growth pattern of plants: Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere has many side effects. Because plants absorb CO2 as part of their growth cycle, an increase in gas can cause changes in plant growth. In a 2008 study by the University of Illinois, scientists found that soy grown in a high CO2 environment lost some of its natural defenses against pests. A Southwestern University study suggests that increasing CO2 reduces the protein content of many crops. Furthermore, high levels of CO2 in the oceans can affect the growth of some marine species, making some species more vulnerable to predators.
  • Pollution: The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that air and particle pollution cause 60,000 deaths each year. There are natural factors that contribute to air pollution, but modernization and the transportation industry dramatically increase levels of toxic fumes.
  • Plant life: Sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other air pollutants can enter the pores of developing plants and break down the waxy coating that protects them from disease and excessive water loss.
  • Carbon monoxide: Internal combustion engines in cars and other vehicles produce carbon monoxide, which is a highly poisonous gas. According to the American Heart Association, breathing this form of air pollution for a long period of time can cause serious breathing problems.
  • Air Transport of carbon pollution: The effects of air pollution can be felt thousands of miles from its original source. China’s industrial pollution can be felt in the western parts of the United States. Air travel has also caused pesticides from farms in South America to reach Antarctica.
  • Global warming: All forests contain large amounts of carbon. When destroyed, the burning or decomposition of forest matter releases this carbon into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide.
    Green house effect leading to global warming

    Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that absorbs solar heat into the atmosphere. Therefore, higher concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide lead to a warmer climate. Global warming threatens ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide.

According to the EPA, humans release 30 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere each year. Because each CO2 molecule can last up to 200 years, this carbon overload can have long-term consequences.

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