Matter cycles through an ecosystem through processes called biogeochemical cycles. All elements on Earth have been recycled over and over again, the tracking of which is done through biogeochemical cycles.
Since carbon atoms are the backbone of cellular formation, the most important biogeochemical cycle is the carbon cycle. There are six major steps in the carbon cycle.
- Photosynthesis Plants build carbohydrates by taking in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
- Carbon moves through the food chain As organisms eat other organisms, carbon moves up the food chain. Molecules in the food that contain carbon transform into the organic molecules that make up the living body.
- Carbon moves back to the environment Organisms use food molecules, containing carbon, as a form of energy. The process of cellular respiration breaks down food molecules into carbon dioxide.
- Contribution of industry Humans contribute to moving carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere through the combustion of fossil fuels.
- Use of fossil fuels Today's fossil fuels were formed hundreds of millions of years ago by plants deposited in the Earth. The decomposition of the plants slowed down in such a way that their organic molecules are used for natural gas, coal and oil.
- Diffusion into the air From the oceans, carbon dioxide diffuses into the air. This creates a large amount of carbon, which is then taken in by plants to start the cycle over again.