Elena Lioubimtseva, PhD – Carbon Cycle

Associate Professor, PhD Environmental Geography, M.S. Geography. Grand Valley State University
View more information about Elena Lioubimtseva, PhD.

Video Transcript:

Carbon is a very important neutral.  It’s a very important chemical.  It controls so many different processes on our planet.  We consist of carbon.  Any life form on our planet consists primarily on carbon.

Carbon is literally everywhere.  Let’s look…  You know, let’s take a very quick look at the budget of carbon or, you know, the amounts of carbon stored in different parts of our planet, in different circle of carbon sinks.  About 610 gigatons of carbon is stored in the terrestrial vegetation.  About the same amount, just a little bit more, somewhat close to 750 gigatons of carbon is in the atmosphere.  The surface of the ocean is responsible for other, 1,000, slightly more than 1,000 gigatons of carbon.  A little bit more, 1,500 gigatons is in soils.  And then, by far, much more carbon is locked in the deep ocean.  So when we’re changing carbon cycle, just in one way, we need to realize that it’s inevitable that this change would lead to all kinds of changes, all kinds of shifts in the entire carbon cycle system.

All right, now we are adding about 5.5 gigatons of carbon to the atmosphere every year, just because of our industrial and car emissions.  And this number is very likely to go up in the next years.

Well, what would be the impact on this for us, for our climate, for our future, for the existence?  One of the scary aspects of changes in the carbon cycle is that while we’re adding more and more carbon through industrial emissions or through transportation, we are also reducing the capacity of our terrestrial vegetation in soils to take some of this carbon back from the atmosphere.  By cutting forests or by applying more intensive agricultural techniques, we’re actually also releasing more carbon from the terrestrial vegetation in soils back into the atmosphere instead of to help the nature to take it back.

There have been some studies suggesting that it’s possible that in future we can count on very high levels of carbon sequestration in the ocean.  We have just looked at the balance of carbon, at the budget of carbon.  It’s true that deep ocean contains way much more carbon than any other carbon sink.  It’s about 38,000 gigatons.  Can we hope that in the future some of the carbon from the atmosphere would migrate into the deep ocean?  Can we hope that in the future some technology will be available, helping us to pump carbon from the atmosphere into the ocean?  Well, I’m afraid we should not wait until we find, until we discover these ways of modifying of carbon cycle.  We have more defined carbon cycle already quite a lot, and we see very, very fast changes in the carbon cycle happening in the past 100 years.  It is expected by the end of this century, carbon concentrations in the atmosphere are likely to double at least.  Some projections suggest that they might triple.

What does that mean for us?  Well, it would mean a lot.  And probably I even don’t need to know what are the exact consequences.  Knowing how important is the effect of carbon on my physiology, on greenhouse effect, on chemistry of our planet as a whole, as the behavior of our agricultural systems, forestry.  We don’t know exactly what the consequences of double or triple concentrations will be, but there is no doubt that they will be very significant.  So when we need to start thinking about how we can rebalance carbon cycle; how we can at least reduce these emissions that are increasing every year.

Topics: Carbon Cycle — October 2nd by Elena Lioubimtseva, PhD

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