Skip main navigation

Learn more about the Carbon Cycle

This video is an illustration of the carbon cycle.

This video shows a graphical illustration of the fast and slow parts of the carbon cycle.

In the pre-industrial slow cycle, on average, 0.1 petagrams of carbon is added to the atmosphere every year. The same amount of carbon is removed from the atmosphere every year by the slow weathering of rocks. This cycle operates on timescales ranging from hundreds of thousands to millions of years.

In the pre-industrial fast cycle, on average, 1.7 petagrams of carbon is transferred from the atmosphere to the land surface every year. The same amount of carbon is transferred from oceans, rivers and lakes back to the atmosphere every year.

There was no change to the amount of carbon in the atmosphere in pre-industrial times.

In 2019 (peak carbon), we released 7.8 petagrams of carbon by burning fossil fuels and 1.1 petagrams of carbon because of land use change. Of this additional carbon, 2.6 petagrams1 were taken up by the land surface, 2.3 petagrams2 were taken up by the oceans and 4.0 petagrams were added to the atmosphere.

1. Annual transfer of carbon from the atmosphere to the land has changed by 2.6 petagrams from 1.7 to 4.3 petagrams.

2. Annual transfer of carbon between the ocean and the atmosphere has changed by 2.3 petagrams from 0.7 petagrams of carbon transferred from the oceans to the atmosphere to 1.6 petagrams of carbon transferred from the atmosphere to the oceans.

This article is from the free online

Taking on the Climate Crisis with Social Change

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education