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Following the Carbon Cycle
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This interactive follows carbon as it moves through various components of the carbon cycle.
Disciplinary Core Ideas
The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis.
Human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming). Reducing the level of climate change and reducing human vulnerability to whatever climate changes do occur depend on the understanding of climate science, engineering capabilities, and other kinds of knowledge, such as understanding of human behavior and on applying that knowledge wisely in decisions and activities.
Plants, algae (including phytoplankton), and many microorganisms use the energy from light to make sugars (food) from carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and water through the process of photosynthesis, which also releases oxygen. These sugars can be used immediately or stored for growth or later use.
Cellular respiration in plants and animals involve chemical reactions with oxygen that release stored energy. In these processes, complex molecules containing carbon react with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and other materials.
Gradual atmospheric changes were due to plants and other organisms that captured carbon dioxide and released oxygen.
Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.
Photoelectric materials emit electrons when they absorb light of a high-enough frequency.
When investigating or describing a system, the boundaries and initial conditions of the system need to be defined and their inputs and outputs analyzed and described using models.
Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.
Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems.
Models can be used to predict the behavior of a system, but these predictions have limited precision and reliability due to the assumptions and approximations inherent in models.
Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems.
Models are limited in that they only represent certain aspects of the system under study.