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The carbon cycle, one of Earth's biogeochemical cycles.
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Biogeochemical Cycles

As a part of biogeochemical cycles, certain elements move through both living and non-living components of the Earth system. The living parts of the Earth system comprise the biosphere, while the non-living parts of the Earth include the hydrosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, and geosphere. The same individual elements are recycled over and over in different parts of the Earth through biogeochemical cycles.

For example, carbon may be taken from the air (atmosphere) into the ocean surface (hydrosphere) where it is utilized by photosynthesizing plankton (biosphere). Carbon is also stored long-term in rocks (geosphere) and fossil fuels like oil, coal, and natural gas (biosphere). This long-term storage that sequesters an element from the rest of the cycle for some amount of time is called a “sink”. When fossil fuels are burned, carbon that had been sequestered underground is sent into the air (atmosphere) as carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas.

All chemical elements that are found in living things are a part of biogeochemical cycles, the most common of these being carbon and nitrogen.

Find out more about two common biogeochemical cycles!

In recent decades these biogeochemical cycles have been changing because of how humans are changing the biosphere (see links below). Less forests, more factories and cars that burn fossil fuels - these changes to biogeochemical cycles are causing more greenhouse gases in our atmosphere and, thus, more global warming.

Last modified May 7, 2007 by Lisa Gardiner.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA