Carbon, the building block of life, cycles through the land, ocean, atmosphere, and the Earth’s interior, in what is simply called the carbon cycle. As part of the carbon cycle, we breathe fresh oxygen produced when plants take in atmospheric carbon dioxide. We tap into carbon that has been stored in Earth’s geosphere for millions of years when we heat our homes with coal and natural gas. We even find the cycle mentioned in the Bible, commonly quoted as saying, “from dust to dust.”
Unfortunately, the life-sustaining processes of the carbon cycle may involve more problems than any of us ever bargained for.
Berrien Moore, professor and director of the Institute for the Study of Earth, Oceans and Space at the University of New Hampshire, gave a lecture at NASA Langley this week entitled, “Humans and the Global Carbon Cycle: A Faustian Bargain?” For Moore, and many of his colleagues, the issue of the carbon balance on Earth, specifically the human contribution to this balance, is of immediate importance.
“I am not saying that we have made a pact with the devil,” said Moore in reference to the literary protagonist, Faust. “It’s just that we have gotten ourselves into business involving burning fossil fuels, and we have to realize what is happening — burning fossil fuels is absolutely, for sure, increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.”
Moore recently served as a co-chair of the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Council (NRC) science decadal study released in January 2007. The long-awaited study, “Earth Science and Applications from Space: National Imperatives for the Next Decade and Beyond,” was produced by and for the Earth science community. He also worked on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) Assessment Reports, the most recent of which was released at the beginning of this month.
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