Carbon is a chemical element vital to all living things. Carbon compounds regulate the Earth’s temperature, make up the food that sustains us, and provides energy that fuels our global economy. Carbon helps Earth hold the energy received from the Sun so it doesn't escape back into space. Therefore, without carbon, life as we know it could not exist.
Carbon is constantly moving, and is exchanged through four main environmental compartments such as the atmosphere, the ocean, land and fossil fuels. This process is part of what is called The Global Carbon Cycle. The carbon cycle is the journey in which carbon is transferred between different reservoirs located on Earth. This cycle is important for maintaining a stable climate and carbon balance on Earth.
On Earth, the majority of carbon is stored in rocks and sediments, with the rest located in the ocean, atmosphere, and in living organisms. These are the reservoirs, or sinks, through which carbon cycles. The ocean plays a critical role in carbon storage, as it holds around 50 times more carbon than the atmosphere. Carbon is continually being exchanged between the ocean’s surface waters and the atmosphere, or can be stored for long periods of time in the ocean depths.
The ocean can remove about half of the extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and plant growth removes more through photosynthesis. Carbon dioxide is one of the greenhouse gases that stops heat escaping from the planet. Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, means more heat trapped, resulting in an increase in temperature; contributing to and worsening climate change.
Over the last 200 years there has been a noticeable change in the carbon cycle. Humans have burnt carbon-rich fossil fuels, releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which would normally be stored in the geosphere. Even the carbon dioxide put into the atmosphere by all the volcanoes that erupt in a year is only a hundredth of that released by human activity.
As a result, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is already greater than at any time in the last 3.6 million years. In the ocean, carbon dioxide reacts with seawater to form carbonic acid. This causes the acidity of seawater to increase, lowering the ocean’s pH, through a process called ocean acidification. Ocean acidification impacts many ocean species, especially organisms like oysters, crabs, snails and corals that make hard shells and skeletons by combining calcium and carbonate from seawater.
Researchers predict ocean acidity will more than double by 2100 if fossil fuels are burned at today’s rate. Reef-building corals develop homes from calcium carbonate, forming the unique and beautiful reefs that house the coral animals and provide habitat for many other organisms. Why does this matter? Without coral reefs; 25% of marine life would lose their habitat, coastal fishing industries would collapse, coastal tourism economies would disappear, coastlines would be damaged and medical breakthroughs would stop.
Everything is connected. Your carbon footprint travels the world right down to the coral reefs. Counting Coral works towards protecting and restoring these reef systems that are being damaged by increased carbon in the atmosphere, and ocean acidification. By connecting art and conservation, we hope to save what looks like a bleak future for our planet.