Carbon: "It's the duct tape of life"
Published: Saturday, July 14th, 2007
Global warming (true or false) has focused everybody's attention on carbon dioxide. That's unfair to carbon. After all, a diamond is carbon, pure carbon. Currently we tend to think of the carbon (C) that's in coal, coke, and charcoal. We forget that non-metallic carbon can also compound with other elements, usually metallic, to form things like calcium carbide. We also neglect the carbon cycle. It's the cycle through which plants, by photosynthesis, use the carbon dioxide in the air to produce the carbohydrates that we (and animals) eat and metabolize to produce carbon dioxide again. It's CO2 to CO2 again. And notice, buried in the paragraph above, the word "carbohydrates." They're what provides energy to our bodies. Of course, scientists also use the term "carbon cycle" to describe how the many forms of carbon flow between the atmosphere, the biosphere and the oceans. Tons of it. They use the term "gigatons" – one billion tons of carbon. Some of that carbon exists in fossils and they can figure out how old the fossils are by "carbondating" them. Diane Boudreau, writing in the ASU (Arizona State University) Research E-Magazine, says: "Plants and animals also store carbon in their bodies. About half the weight of a mature tree is elemental carbon. Scientists estimate that 550 gigatons of carbon exist in living plant and animal matter. Another 1,300 gigatons of carbon is trapped in dead leaves, twigs, branches, other ground litter and soils." The article also says that 800 gigatons of carbon are dissolved in the surface layers of the world's oceans. But NationalGeographic.com brings up a controversy. A recent study has shown that the oceans' removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere has slowed global warming. But a related study, by the same scientists, shows that the impact of all that carbon dioxide on the oceans' marine life could be, one says, "severe." However, NPR (National Public Radio) has a Web site ([ http://npr.org/ ]npr.org) which has been doing a series titled: "It's All About Carbon" by Robert Krulwich. "First of all, carbon is everywhere. Yes, most of you is water. But a surprising part of the rest of you is carbon," according to the series. Carbon, says the science writer, Natalie Angier, "is the duct tape of life. It holds us together." In 1811, an Italian revolutionary group was formed to unify Italy and form a republic. The name they chose? "Carbonari." It meant "charcoal burner" – "carbo" meant "coal."And what do people drink, here in the U.S. and around the world? "Carbonated" soft drinks, like Coke and Pepsi, that get their fizz from the carbon dioxide they're saturated with.Yes, carbon is a part of us, we are a carbo-nation. Chelle Delaney is associate publisher of the Quay County Sun. She can be reached by calling 461-1952 or by emailing: email@example.com
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