Who is Outrider?

Outrider believes that the global challenges we face together must be solved by working together.

Among the greatest threats to the future of humankind are nuclear weapons and global climate change. Outrider makes the bold claim that both threats can be overcome — and not just by policy makers but by people with the right tools and inspiration.

The Carbon Cycle: Balance Disrupted

Carbon is the foundation of life on earth. Because of the dynamics of the carbon cycle, it is found in the air, water, soil, plants, and animals. But, humans are changing the carbon cycle in unprecedented ways.

As shown in this graphic, the global carbon cycle on human timescales involves exchanges of carbon among various “reservoirs” of vastly different sizes. In a natural state, the cycle is in approximate balance, as carbon emitted from volcanoes, oceans, and vegetation is roughly compensated by carbon drawdown from ocean absorption and vegetation growth. Humans have disrupted this balance through fossil fuel emissions and land use practices.

The carbon cycle in action

Ocean - Atmosphere Exchange

Carbon cycles between the ocean and the atmosphere in both directions, but oceans absorb more than they emit. However, as climate change causes water temperatures to rise, the upper ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) less effectively and carbon is stored less efficiently in the deep ocean.

Plants

Through photosynthesis, vegetation absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in plants. Much of the carbon emitted from industrialization has been taken up by plants and oceans, but these reservoirs can’t keep pace with how quickly humans are injecting carbon into the atmosphere.

Land Use

Changes humans have made in land cover due to agriculture, forestry, and urbanization have also caused a net transfer of carbon into the atmosphere. These land-use modifications began slowly many thousands of years ago and have accelerated in modern times with expanding population.

Burning Fossil Fuels

This is the greatest source of atmospheric carbon from human activities. Carbon stored underground in coal, oil, and natural gas deposits for millions of years is being released into the atmosphere very quickly, creating a major imbalance in the cycle.

Atmospheric Carbon

Carbon exists in the atmosphere primarily in the form of two gases: carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Even small increases in the concentration of these gases cause a warming effect.

Ocean - Atmosphere Exchange

Carbon cycles between the ocean and the atmosphere in both directions, but oceans absorb more than they emit. However, as climate change causes water temperatures to rise, the upper ocean absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) less effectively and carbon is stored less efficiently in the deep ocean.

Plants

Through photosynthesis, vegetation absorbs carbon from the atmosphere and stores it in plants. Much of the carbon emitted from industrialization has been taken up by plants and oceans, but these reservoirs can’t keep pace with how quickly humans are injecting carbon into the atmosphere.

Land Use

Changes humans have made in land cover due to agriculture, forestry, and urbanization have also caused a net transfer of carbon into the atmosphere. These land-use modifications began slowly many thousands of years ago and have accelerated in modern times with expanding population.

Burning Fossil Fuels

This is the greatest source of atmospheric carbon from human activities. Carbon stored underground in coal, oil, and natural gas deposits for millions of years is being released into the atmosphere very quickly, creating a major imbalance in the cycle.

Atmospheric Carbon

Carbon exists in the atmosphere primarily in the form of two gases: carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Even small increases in the concentration of these gases cause a warming effect.

Mountaintop removal coal mining near Charleston West Virginia

Mountaintop removal coal mining near Charleston West Virginia;

Dennis Dimick, Flickr

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This content was developed in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin, Center for Climatic Research, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

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