The Importance of the Carbon Cycle in the formation of Life

Talon J. Vazquez

12/3/05

 

The role of the Carbon Cycle is quite important to the formation of life. After all, all living things on our planet have benefited from the out gassing of carbon on our planet. On our planet carbon is a large contributor to creating the conditions on the surface which allow life to survive. This is due to the nature of the Carbon Cycle. The Carbon Cycle and other biochemical cycles, i.e (nitrogen cycle and oxygen cycle) are systems in the environment that move materials throughout the planet. On our planet these cycles subsequently warm the surface of the planet and fuel many living organisms. I will further explain the how the green house effect (named after a method of agriculture) greatly encourages life. To do this I will briefly dissect the Carbon Cycle and its unique role in supporting life, in order to get a full appreciation for what carbon contributes to these conditions. I will further explain how the other processes of the carbon cycle benefit the formation of life.

Many planets have atmospheres in which the carbon and other biochemical cycles are at work heating the planets surface. This can have differing effects on the surface; both Mars and Venus have greenhouse gasses which in fact have very different effects on each planet.  On Venus the greenhouse effect has run amuck and now the average temperature of Venus is 470į C (878į F).  It seems that the slightly higher temperature on Venus during its heavy gassing period prevented liquid water from forming. If this doesnít seem very important to you, you are very wrong. When we look at the one planet in our solar system that has life on it, we notice that water has been a very important supporter of life.  While studying how life came about on this planet, we canít but help but notice that water has been vital to the formation of life. Venus and Earth are very similar. It is suspected that both planets would have gone through very similar formation processes. Both have an abundance of carbon, water and both have similar geological systems. This water was supplied in a few ways, impacts and natural appropriation in the formation of planets in the proto-planetary disk. This is very important factor in the formation of the greenhouse effect.   This may be the most important ingredient to its run away greenhouse effect. On Earth the presence of liquid water was able to absorb the carbon and eventually store it in rocks. Although both planets had much more carbon than water and other compounds because Earth has liquid water it was able to store the carbon and stop the planet from over heating. This laid the framework for living organisms to further change the Earth to fit its needs. As you can see because there was an abundance of carbon in the atmosphere, Venus had the frame work laid to heat up to temperatures much too hot for life to survive in that environment. This is almost the direct opposite of what is thought to have happened on Mars. Mars is much smaller than its two neighbors, but has gone through similar process. It too out gassed and had water, but do to its small mass it was to weak to hold on to the carbon which it gassed. Since it wasnít able to hold its gasses it wasnít able to warm up and eventually froze. You might ask yourself at this point why carbon is able to heat a planet. Well the answer is kind of tricky; in fact the Carbon Cycle doesnít directly warm the planets like a heater. It is an insulator, keeping the heat given off by the sun, as well as the radiating energy from the core of the planet. It works as a trap for the heat which supports the moderate temperature on our planet. This happens because the gasses in the air like nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon reflex heat back to the surface concentrating the heat. Now that you understand that the Carbon Cycle is like a giant greenhouse in early spring, protecting us from the cold nights, we may look at other reasons the Carbon cycle is important.

        In this part of my analysis I will attempt to explain how carbon fuels our environment. In the beginning of our planet just about as soon as conditions would permit, life took hold, probably in the ocean or tidal pools. I would like to take this time to present how the first micro-organisms actually used carbon as food and changed our planet to the world we know today. We donít exactly know where life started but we are pretty sure what kinds of life forms came first and what they ate. In my research of this topic I have found that life on this planet has evolved from an organism amply named Extremophiles. Of course this name was given to these organism in order to describe the environment which they live in. I feel that by using these organisms as an example I will be able to show you how life itself feeds of chemicals and specifically carbon. In the earliest days of our planet carbon and other harsh gases were abundant. In order for life to take hold on this planet it had to be tough. In fact the environment on the planet was just right for these young Extremophiles. We know this by studying present day Extremophile which live in the harshest places on our planet. The Extremophiles on the planet today live in hot springs of Yellow Stone to the bottom of the ocean where no light can be found. Once these organisms had a foot hold on Earth all they needed was time to evolve into to many different organisms and eventually into the organisms we know today. That is where carbon comes into play, in the creation of our planet and it creatures the planet was to warm for most photosynthetic life. Thanks to liquid H2O the Earth cooled somewhat allowing, these organisms to spawn prehistoric plants which as we all know are photosynthetic. A photosynthetic life form is one which takes in carbon and energy from light and produces O2. This is vastly important to the role of the carbon cycle and life on our planet. Our planet wouldnít be able to sustain most of the life forms it now has if this evolution did not happen. You see although these conditions we ok for these Extremophiles it would be much to poisonous, and at this time if these organisms didnít absorb the carbonís being out gassed it would be very possible for the greenhouse gases on our planet to reach levels to high for organisms survive.  Although life is tough it must have the help of the rest of planets systems to flourish.