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Why is carbon so important?
Carbon is the basis of all organic molecules. It makes up our genetic material (DNA and RNA) and proteins, which are essential for life. Carbon is so special because of its ability to bond to almost any other molecule. The major element within our bodies is carbon.
What is the carbon cycle?
The carbon cycle is the process through which carbon is cycled through the air, ground, plants, animals, and fossil fuels. Large amounts of carbon exist in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide (CO2). Carbon dioxide is cycled by green plants during the process known as photosynthesis to make organic molecules (glucose, which is food). This is where the nourishment of every heterotrophic organism comes from. Animals do the opposite of plants--they release carbon dioxide back into the air as a waste product from respiration. (Note: Plants also undergo respiration to make food, but the majority of the carbon dioxide in the air comes from heterotrophic respiration). Decomposers, when they break down dead organic matter, release carbon dioxide into the air also. Decomposers are essential because without them, all of the carbon on the planet would eventually become locked up in dead carcasses and other trash. Decay permits carbon to be released back into the food web. Carbon is also stored in fossil fuels, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas. When these are burned, carbon dioxide is also released back into the air. Volcanoes and fires also release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide can dissolve in water, where some of it is later returned back into the atmosphere. The rest can be taken to form calcium carbonate, which builds up shells, rocks, and skeletons of protozoans and coral.
How have humans interfered with the carbon cycle?
Mainly, we have drastically altered the carbon cycle by destroying forests and other forms of vegetation without replanting.
How much of the earth's tropical rain forests have been destroyed by human interference so far (as of 1997)?
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