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Study Notes

Introduction to Carbon and Carbon Stores

AS, A-Level
AQA, Edexcel, OCR, IB, Eduqas, WJEC

Last updated 22 Mar 2021

Carbon is an essential element to all living things on earth – plants and animals, surface and marine. It also plays a major role in regulating global climate, particularly temperature and in determining the acidity of rain, rivers and oceans.

Carbon cycles, like water cycles, should be thought of as a system. There are inputs, stores, fluxes/flows and outputs that transfer carbon from one environment to another and cause stores to be depleted, or accumulate.

Carbon stores (reservoirs): location

The main stores of carbon are located in, and transferred between the:

  • atmosphere: mainly as carbon dioxide CO2 but also shorter-lived methane CH4
  • biosphere: all living organisms are composed of carbon occupying various environments
  • cryosphere: the frozen ground of tundra and arctic regions containing plant material
  • pedosphere: soil contains much organic carbon and the remains of dead plants & animals
  • lithosphere: many of the rocks of the earth’s crust contain carbon, such as chalk/limestone (calcium carbonate)
  • hydrosphere: the oceans contain much dissolved CO2 as well as marine

Carbon stores: magnitude

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