The Carbon Cycle

You are made up of carbon!

You are made up of carbon!

Plants turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar using sunlight.

Plants turn carbon dioxide and water into sugar using sunlight.

The Carbon Cycle is the name scientists have given to the way carbon moves around the Earth. Carbon is everywhere on Earth because all living things are made up of carbon. That includes you!

We will start our journey through the Carbon Cycle with plants. Plants breathe in carbon dioxide in order to make energy. This process of turning water, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into energy is called photosynthesis.

After photosynthesis, the carbon becomes trapped in the plant. The carbon can get out of the plant in two ways. First, the plant can be eaten by an animal or a person. Then, the carbon becomes a part of that animal or person. Another possibility is that the plant can die. As the plant decomposes, the carbon it was holding is released back into the atmosphere to be breathed in by another plant.

When an animal eats the carbon from a plant there are a few things that could happen to it. First, the carbon could become a part of the animal’s body. Second, it could be breathed out in the form of carbon dioxide. Third, it could pass right through the animal and come out the other side.

Carbon passes from plants to animals when animals eat plants.

Carbon passes from plants to animals when animals eat plants.

The carbon inside an animal gets passed on to whatever eats that animal. When an animal (or person) eventually dies, the carbon inside the body is released into the atmosphere. Carbon hangs out in the atmosphere in the form of either carbon dioxide or methane.

People pull fossil fuels out of the ground using a pump, like this one.

People pull fossil fuels out of the ground using a pump, like this one.

Sometimes when plants and animals die, before they decompose, they are covered by sand or mud. After a long time, their remains become fossils. The carbon that was in their bodies becomes oil. That is why gas and coal are called fossil fuels.