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To launch 'Good to Know', we chatted with Josie, Ecologist and Marine Biology Masters student to hear about the carbon cycle- start to nearly finish (more to come on this!)

Climate change is complex and carbon is just one part of that, take a read to understand a bit more.

Alright, so, one important thing to establish is that Carbon itself is entirely natural — it’s HOW we use it that can tip the earth into a highly unnatural state. Carbon is a very very important lego brick on earth; every living thing to have ever lived on our blue planet has been composed of carbon-based molecules! On different planets, the most important lego brick could be entirely different, like silicon. But here, thanks to our astronomical history, we are all in the ‘carbon based life’ club. The members include ALL living things: You, Me, plants, bacteria etc etc. Even the dinosaurs and other ancient life forms! And when we all inevitably pass on and are returned to the ground, the carbon within all us once-living things starts to slowly but surely accumulate and concentrate all together. Fast forward a few million years and the end product is oil, coal or other similar forms of “fossil fuels”… do you see why it’s called that now?

Now, under natural circumstances, this carbon seeps it’s way back to the atmosphere eventually thanks to geological processes, but very very very very very very slowly. Of course, the odd volcanic eruption can rapidly blast butt tonnes of carbon upwards, but that isn’t a regular occurrence. Us modern humans however, extract this carbon fuel for our engines and machinery etc, and burn it. This called Combustion and causes carbon to bind with oxygen (O2), forming Carbon Dioxide (CO2) which is then released into our atmosphere. Burning fossil fuels (and other life forms, like trees/wood) accelerates the carbon cycle. The sheer speed at which we humans do this is entirely unnatural - it’s like we’ve injected the carbon cycle with a triple dose of caffeine, crack, meth and pre-workout, causing CO2 to be released 100s of 1000s to millions of years earlier, and in WAY larger quantities, that would have EVER happened naturally. This pesky CO2 is a major player in Climate Change, because once it arrives in the atmosphere, it is really really good at absorbing heat and keeping this warmth trapped on earth — which is why it’s called a “greenhouse gas” (🤯). There are other greenhouse gases doing us dirty like this too, like methane, but of them all, CO2 hangs out in the atmosphere for the longest, so over time it’s considered to have the largest effect. So, what does this excess heat actually do? Well, I’ll have to explain THAT another time, but spoiler alert: it’s does so much more than just warm us up.

More to come on this.

Written by Josie Mason: Ecologist and Blue Carbon Expert



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