These investigations will help you model how carbon flows from one reservoir to another.
Note: Before you begin, notice the relative abundance of carbon in each of the five reservoirs. Rock contains far more carbon than the other four reservoirs combined. Since rock is part of the slow carbon cycle, it is not part of the exchanges you will model in this snack.
Pathway 1: Flow between the Atmosphere and Terrestrial Biosphere
The natural flux between the atmosphere and terrestrial biosphere is about 120 GtC per year in each direction. In the terrestrial biosphere, photosynthesis removes about 120 GtC from the atmosphere each year. Decomposition of biological material and respiration from plants and soil microbes returns 120 GtC to the atmosphere each year.
To model this interaction, remove 120 grains of rice from the Atmosphere bag and place it in a quart-sized bag. Then do the same with the Terrestrial Biosphere bag. Exchange these two equal-sized bags while discussing how the carbon flows from one reservoir to another. Model this yearly exchange several times while reviewing the ways in which carbon cycles from one reservoir to the other.
Pathway 2: Flow between the Ocean and the Atmosphere
Carbon cycles between the ocean and the atmosphere at a rate of 90 GtC per year in each direction. Most of this exchange occurs by diffusion at the surface of the ocean.
To model this interaction, remove 90 grains of rice from the Atmosphere bag and place it in a new quart-sized bag. Then do the same with the Ocean bag. Exchange these two equal-sized bags while discussing how the carbon flows from one reservoir to another. Model this yearly exchange several times, while reviewing the ways in which carbon cycles from one reservoir to the other.
Notice that, until now, the carbon cycle has remained in balance, and no reservoir has a net gain or loss.
Pathway 3: Flow from Fossil Fuels
Human use of fossil fuels (the burning of which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere) is changing the balance of carbon, adding an additional 9.4 (±0.5) GtC to the atmosphere each year. Land use changes, such as deforestation, remove part of the carbon sink (materials in the natural environment capable of absorbing excess carbon), thereby “contributing” that addition of 1.5 (±0.7) GtC excess carbon. Human impacts are therefore contributing almost 11 GtC per year to the atmosphere.
To model this interaction, count 11 grains of rice from the Fossil Fuels bag.
Not all of this carbon goes into the Atmosphere, as other reservoirs are absorbing some of this added carbon. Each year 4 GtC (represented by 4 grains of rice) from the Fossil Fuels reservoir are absorbed by the Terrestrial Biosphere, and 3 GtC (3 grains of rice) are absorbed by the Ocean reservoir. This results in a net gain in the Atmosphere reservoir of 5 GtC (5 grains of rice) per year (see the equation below).