What Does the Sun Have to Do With the Carbon Cycle?

Our closest star is vital for life on Earth.
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The sun, which is the star at the center of our solar system, powers all life on Earth. While this statement sounds poetic, it is also scientific. We could not survive without the light and warmth of the sun, because it is involved in so many processes integral to the survival of the eco systems of the earth. One such system is called the Carbon Cycle, in which the sun plays an important part.

Carbon Cycle Overview

Carbon is the basis of all life on Earth and beyond; according to NASA's Earth Observatory, it is the fourth most abundant element in the universe. Human beings are carbon-based, as are other plants, animals, and minerals. The Carbon Cycle refers to the cyclical progress of carbon atoms through plants, animals, the seas, and the atmosphere.


Respiration is typically thought of as breathing, but on a molecular level, more things are taking place. Respiration refers to the process of taking in oxygen and producing carbon dioxide and water. Plants, humans and animals breathe constantly, making them integral to the Carbon Cycle as they produce the necessary materials for photosynthesis.


The sun takes an integral role in the photosynthesis stage of the Carbon Cycle. Photosynthesis refers to the process by which plants take in carbon dioxide and water (the products of respiration), and convert it to oxygen, powered by the energy of the sun. Photosynthesis occurs in both land plants and ocean dwelling organisms like algae. Without photosynthesis, the earth's supply of oxygen would be depleted.

Environmental Concerns

Since all components of the Carbon Cycle are so important to keep it flowing, environmentalists have been especially carbon-conscious in the past few years. According to NASA's Earth Observatory, changes that increase the amount of carbon in any one part of the cycle can throw it off balance, causing things like the increasing temperature of Earth.

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