What Process Adds Carbon to the Atmosphere?

The process of respiration adds carbon to the atmosphere. Respiration occurs in living organisms around the world, including plants and animals. It encompasses the process of breaking down organic molecules with carbon into smaller components, including carbon dioxide, which in turn releases into the atmosphere and surrounding environments.

Respiration is one of many important life functions using carbon. Carbon supports life on Earth in many ways, serving as an essential element for life. Carbon ranks among the most basic elements. It exists in a wide variety of organic substances, including fossil fuels and genetic molecules existing in organisms. Carbon appears in rocks, sedimentary materials and the ocean. It reaches these diverse ecosystems through the process of respiration, which brings carbon dioxide into these environments.

Respiration involves a physical breakdown of chemicals forming carbon, which includes carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide released through respiration exists in gas form. In terrestrial ecosystems, carbon dioxide enters the atmosphere through the internal processing of organisms. Organisms unconsciously inhale and exhale; this breathing pattern produces and releases carbon dioxide into the surrounding air.

Although respiration accounts for most of the carbon in the atmosphere, other natural processes deliver carbon into the air and oceans too. Decay and burning fossil fuels also release carbon into the atmosphere, where it then sees use in the process of photosynthesis.