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Desert Diary
Climate/Carbon Sinks


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You know about kitchen sinks, but how about carbon sinks? In the kitchen fixture, the water sinks down the drain to be lost. The idea of sinks in nature is similar. The carbon sink consists of the places that carbon dioxide is lost from the atmosphere. There are lots of these, such as carbon dioxide dissolving in oceans, rivers, and lakes. In the past, huge amounts of carbon became incorporated into limestone, coal, and petroleum. All known organisms are based on carbon compounds and thus make up an enormous carbon sink.

Plants remove carbon dioxide from the air and, with the aid of sunshine, incorporate the carbon into carbohydrates and other substances. Animals, in turn, feed on plants, incorporating the carbon into the substance of their own bodies. Since carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas that raises temperatures, release to the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels is believed to be responsible for at least part of the recent temperature increases. Failure to comprehend all aspects of the carbon sink may mean we're in for a really hot time.
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.