carbon cycle

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The movement of carbon through the surface, interior, and atmosphere of the Earth. Carbon exists in atmospheric gases, in dissolved ions in the hydrosphere, and in solids as a major component of organic matter and sedimentary rocks, and is widely distributed. Inorganic exchange is mainly between the atmosphere and hydrosphere. The major movement of carbon results from photosynthesis and respiration, with exchange between the biosphere, atmosphere, and hydrosphere. Rates of exchange are very small, but over geologic time they have concentrated large amounts of carbon in the lithosphere, mainly as limestones and fossil fuels. This carbon was probably present as CO2 in the primordial atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels and the release of CO2 from soil air through the clearance of tropical forests may eventually change the balance of the carbon cycle, although the climatic effects may be partly mitigated by the buffering action of the oceans; it is estimated that about 200 billion tonnes of CO2 have been added to the atmosphere in this way since 1850. See greenhouse effect.

Subjects: Earth Sciences and Geography.

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