In this lesson, we’re going to be learning about how the ocean and biosphere help control global warming by absorbing greenhouse gases. We’ll look at how this is affecting the Earth and the prognosis for years to come.
What Are Greenhouse Gases?
In 2017, hurricanes pummeled the southern coast of the United States and the Caribbean in close succession. Many islands lost everything, with beaches, cities, and all infrastructure destroyed. In the same year, the worst wildfires in history raged through California while thousands were forced to evacuate. Meanwhile, droughts ripped through Africa and parts of the Antarctica pack ice broke apart during their winter, a time when pack ice should normally refreeze.What is going on in our world? Human activities are putting increasing amounts of stress on the Earth. Many of our problems stem from the production of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide or methane.
These gases wrap the Earth like a blanket, trapping heat from the Sun. This is leading to climate change, or an increase in global temperature on Earth. This doesn’t simply mean everywhere is getting hotter. Climate change results in rising sea levels, altered chemical composition of the ocean, and large-scale changes in weather patterns that are causing increased numbers of natural disasters.
What Is The Carbon Cycle?
Carbon dioxide cycles through living things, also known as the biosphere; the atmosphere; the oceans; and Earth. Normal processes like breathing and geological activities release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Trees take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere during photosynthesis, and the oceans are also able to absorb some. Over millions of years, the carbon in living things is compressed into fossil fuels deep within the Earth after they die. But, humans are disrupting this process. We are digging up fossil fuels and burning them faster than they can be made. Today, we’re going to look at how two specific parts of the carbon cycle are involved in controlling levels of greenhouse gases: the biosphere and the ocean.
Redwood trees are some of the largest living things on Earth, growing up to 360 feet tall.
Where do these trees get their mass? Many students might think of water or nutrients, but the answer is actually something invisible – carbon dioxide. Trees take in carbon dioxide and use water and light energy from the Sun to convert it to sugar through the process of photosynthesis. This reduces the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and helps to mitigate human activities that are driving climate change.
Greenhouse gases trap heat in our atmosphere causing climate change. The biosphere, all living things on Earth, is one carbon sink, or holding tank for carbon. Green plants take in carbon dioxide through photosynthesis and covert it to sugars made of carbon. That carbon is transferred to other organisms when they eat plants and each other.
When living things die, their carbon is released back into the soil and compressed into fossil fuels over millions of years. The ocean is another carbon sink, which absorbs carbon dioxide and converts it to carbonic acid. However, excess carbonic acid is causing ocean acidification, which is damaging to marine organisms.