What Impact Do Humans Have on the Carbon Cycle?

Human activity impacts the carbon cycle by introducing more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere: carbon dioxide accumulates in the atmosphere, changes temperatures and alters the salinity levels of oceans, disturbing the salt and water balance equilibrium that supports proper growth of marine plants and animals. Some carbon dioxide generation occurs naturally, although human actions, such as burning fossil fuels and operating factories, accelerate its creation and escape into Earth’s natural environments. This translates to warmer air temperatures and higher acidity levels in water bodies.

Carbon dioxide forms part of the Earth’s atmosphere, along with other gases such as methane and oxygen. These gases operate in a delicate balance, working harmoniously to regulate temperature, water storage and precipitation. The influx of excessive amounts of carbon dioxide in the air disturbs this balance. Carbon dioxide molecules function as temperature regulators. With less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, temperatures on Earth fall.

More carbon dioxide, however, brings warmer temperatures. This triggers accumulation of water vapor and additional precipitation. In oceans, rising carbon dioxide levels increase ocean temperatures. Warmer temperatures reduce nutrient quantity and diversity, jeopardizing plankton and other marine life. Higher temperatures also weaken shells of crustaceans and creatures with shells, increasing their vulnerability. On land, more carbon dioxide facilitates the growth of some plants, while impairing growth for others.