Decomposition | Forms and Function | Management of Soil Organic Matter
Carbon is essential to life on earth, with every living organism needing carbon to sustain life whether for physical structure, or as an energy source, or both. Carbon is quite mobile and cycles through the earth's atmosphere, oceans, biosphere and geosphere.
The total amount of carbon on earth is fixed, we cannot create more and we cannot remove carbon from the earth's system. Carbon can be found as a gas, and in solid and liquid forms, but the total amount of carbon on earth always remains the same.
Carbon is the primary component of all fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) that we burn to create power. Our growing use of energy has increased the volume of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere through burning fossil fuels.
In an agricultural system, carbon is cycled through the atmosphere, through plants and animals, and through the soil. The production of food affects the amount of carbon in the soil as harvesting plant and animal products removes carbon from the agricultural system. By increasing the amount of carbon stored in the soil, we can significantly offset the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and also improve the health of our soil. Increasing organic matter in soil increases the amount of carbon in soil, and wide range of soil health benefits result.
The following animation illustrates the steps of the carbon cycle in a simplified form.
Click on the animation of the carbon cycle to start.