Real World: The Carbon Cycle -- Essential for Life on Earth

pine trees bumblebees and Swiss cheese

what do these all have in common

it's carbon carbon can be found almost

everywhere find out just how important

carbon is to life on Earth next on real



carbon is not only the fourth most

abundant element in the universe it's

also one of the essential building

blocks of life it's in our bodies and in

our food but what is carbon anyway

carbon is one of the basic building

blocks of life on earth it's found all

over the place like in animals plants

and it's also found in nonliving

material like rocks and the atmosphere

carbon is important for many reasons

including providing lots of the power

that we use it's found in coal it's

found in fossil fuels it's found really

in all of our main sources of energy we

can find carbon and many different types

of source poles there's a lot of carbon

in the ocean that's actually one of our

main carbon pools on our planet you can

find carbon in the atmosphere as

different gases such as carbon dioxide

and you find lots of carbon in the

terrestrial area so in plants and trees

or in soils so what else do we know

about this carbon cycle so the carbon

cycle is the cycle of where carbon goes

and also how carbon moves from one pool

into a different way carbon cycle is a

system this earth process that transfers

carbon from the plant material to the

atmosphere back to the plant material

from the oceans to the atmosphere back

to the oceans and from far below ground

from fossilized carbon pools to the

atmosphere so fast-moving carbon for

example is what gets stored in plants

you have photosynthesis that happens

which is essentially really a mechanism

by which plants are able to absorb

carbon from the atmosphere and they

essentially use the carbon to make sugar

which is the basis of all carbohydrates

and that carbon that's fixed there and

these plants is fast Carbon slower

carbon will refer to over time sort of

the integration of perhaps atmospheric

carbon into the ocean

down into the depths of the ocean one

manner in which it's transferred from

the atmosphere to the oceans might be

through the photosynthesis that's done

by plankton in the ocean and then the

consumption of that plankton by

higher-level species and then the

eventual decay of some of that organic

material those species well to some

extent decay and be transferred to the

bottom of the ocean where the carbon

that used to be part of those species

gets locked away in ocean sediments

humans have a huge impact on the carbon

cycle because essentially we are

changing how it is we are taking a lot

of these pools of slow carbon and

burning it and putting it into the

atmosphere so we're really changing

where the carbon is and that has some

big implications so we're not really

changing how much carbon is there the

amount of carbon is always the same but

what we're changing is where it is and

what formats in so if you put the carbon

just take this low carbon you burn it

and you put it in the atmosphere it gets

expanded and the atmosphere is a much

smaller pool then the ocean is for

example or our terrestrial reservoirs

our humans have a really important role

in the carbon cycle but how does NASA

measure carbon as it moves we have

different ways of measuring carbon for

example we work on measuring the carbon

that's stored in trees and to do that we

use different types of instruments we do

field work and we also use satellite

data for example data from some new

satellites like I set to and Jedi one

way we do those measurements is with

satellite imagery or satellite estimates

we use lidar instruments that are in

space that are pointed down at the earth

that shoot lidar pulses towards the

earth and measure the time that it takes

for those pulses to return to the

satellite sensor from those pieces of

information we can learn about the

height of forests and other structural


of the forest canopies in addition to

using the satellite data we also have to

do fieldwork we go in the field and we

measure what species is that it is we

get the biometry of a tree which is a

biometry is measuring of the living

things we take a tape and we put it

around the tree and we measure the

circumference measure the height of a

tree and then we compare that to what

we're getting from the satellite we

would like to get a better understanding

of where carbon exists on the landscape

carbon really is essential to all life

as we know it and we can see the carbon

cycle in motion thanks to NASA's eyes in

the sky on the ground and in space see

you next time on real world