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Science, Maths & Technology

Carbon in the atmosphere

Updated Sunday, 7th May 2000

The atmosphere - our protective blanket of gases - has a vital component: carbon dioxide.

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A protective blanket of gases surrounds the Earth. It isn’t very thick - nearly all of it lies within 30 kilometres of the Earth’s surface. Carbon dioxide is continually getting into the atmosphere from other reservoirs - for instance when plants or animals respire, or volcanoes erupt. At the same time, carbon dioxide is continually lost from the atmosphere, primarily by dissolution and by photosynthesis. It’s all a question of balance. A vital balance - because although the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is small, it plays a very important role.

Green plants could not exist without it. And carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has helped to warm the Earth’s surface, making the planet hospitable to life for billions of years.

Where do you find the carbon?

The envelope of air around the earth

What form of carbon?

Most is the gas carbon dioxide

How long will the carbon remain?

About 3.5 years on average

How much carbon is there?

760 x 1012kg (in 1996)

What processes will free the carbon?

Photosynthesis, dissolution





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