Air, Home Life, Pollution


Biogeochemical Cycles


We have seen that plants sequester large sums of carbon in themselves. They are able to do this since, on average, photosynthesis produces more sugar than what is need by the plant during its respiration phase. As long as the plant is alive, it will continue to take carbon dioxide out of the air. However, we also found that a plant will return all of that carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere after it dies if the wood is burned or allowed to decay. In this week's lab, we are going to investigate what effect mankind has on the carbon cycle. In particular, we are going to estimate the amount of carbon dioxide that each one of us is responsible for emitting each year. This analysis is going to study only those day-to-day activities that emit carbon dioxide, and not look at the unique events that we have that also emit carbon dioxide (like bulldozing a forest and grinding up the trees). Our modern way of life relies heavily on the emission of carbon dioxide. When we think about this, we often limit ourselves to the use of automobiles and trucks and a few industrial processes. We understand that when we burn the gasoline in our engines, we are oxidizing the fuel and creating carbon dioxide. However, there are other activities in our life that also emit CO2, even though we do not see the oxidation. When we use electricity, we are also emitting carbon dioxide. The majority of the electricity created in the state of Georgia is derived from burning natural gas or coal. We also emit CO2 when we heat and cool our homes, since this requires the use of electricity or the burning of natural gas, propane, heating oil, or wood. Even our creation of garbage releases carbon dioxide in the environment. If this garbage is put into a landfill, it decays and puts CO2 back into the atmosphere. If it is recycled, energy of some form will be used to accomplish this, emitting CO2 in the process.