Interactive Labs

Carbon Lab

Lessons > The Carbon Cycle > Step 2

In many scenarios, the atmospheric concentration of CO2 is projected to increase beyond 700 ppm by the end of the century. However, this increase in atmospheric carbon doesn't account for all of the carbon released by burning fossil fuels.

To find out where all the carbon really goes, run the simulation again, one decade at a time. Record the total amount of carbon in the atmosphere (the number in the sky) and other carbon sinks (terrestrial plants, soil, surface ocean, and deep ocean), as carbon moves through the system. Note that 1 ppm of atmospheric CO2 is equivalent to 2.1 GT (Gigatons) of carbon. As you record your data, keep in mind that this is a simulation of real life. Think about the questions below.

  1. What is the relationship between an increase in fossil fuel consumption and increased carbon in terrestrial plants? How might this change flora populations? What impact could twenty years at this level of consumption have on flora?
  2. What is the relationship between an increase in total carbon concentration (the smokestack) and increased carbon in the ocean surface? How might this change marine life populations? What impact could fifty years at this level of emissions have on marine fauna? On marine flora?
  3. In addition to circulating through the carbon cycle, where else might excess carbon be found? In fifty years, where would you be most likely to see excess carbon?
  4. Which areas are most highly (and quickly) affected by an increase in carbon emissions (and increase in fossil fuel consumption)? How would these effects manifest themselves? What are the dangers/benefits to these areas?