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How important are water and carbon to life on Earth?

Water and carbon support life on Earth and move between the land, oceans and atmosphere.

The carbon and water cycles have distinctive processes and pathways that operate within them.

How do the water and carbon cycles operate in contrasting locations?

It is possible to identify the physical and human factors that affect the water and carbon cycles in a tropical rainforest.

A case study of a tropical rainforest, including:

  • water and carbon cycles specific to tropical rainforests, including the rates of flow and distinct stores. How an individual tree through to the rainforest as a whole can influence these cycles
  • physical factors affecting the flows and stores in the water cycle, including temperature, rock permeability and porosity and relief
  • physical factors affecting the flows and stores in the carbon cycle, including temperature, vegetation, organic matter in soil and the mineral composition of rocks
  • for one drainage basin in the tropical rainforest, explore the changes to the flows and stores within the water cycle caused by natural and human factors such as deforestation and farming factors
  • the impact of human activity, such as deforestation and farming, on carbon flows, soil and nutrient stores
  • strategies to manage the tropical rainforest such as afforestation and improved agriculture techniques that have positive effects on the water and carbon cycles.

It is possible to identify the physical and human factors that affect the water and carbon cycles in an Arctic tundra area.

A case study of the Arctic tundra, including:

  • water and carbon cycles specific to Arctic tundra, including the rates of flow and distinct stores
  • physical factors affecting the flows and stores in the cycles, including temperature, rock permeability and porosity and relief
  • physical factors affecting the flows and stores in the carbon cycle, including temperature, vegetation, organic matter in soil and the mineral composition of rocks
  • seasonal changes in the water and carbon cycles in the Arctic tundra
  • the impact of the developing oil and gas industry on the water and carbon cycles
  • management strategies used to moderate the impacts of the oil and gas industry.

How much change occurs over me in the water and carbon cycles?

Human factors can disturb and enhance the natural processes and stores in the water and carbon cycles.

  • Dynamic equilibrium in the cycles and the balance between the stores and the flows.
  • Land use changes, such as growth in urban areas, farming and forestry, as a catalyst for altering the flows and stores in these cycles.
  • How water extraction, including surface extraction and sub-surface groundwater extraction (including aquifers and artesian basins), impact the flows and stores in these cycles.
  • The impact of fossil fuel combustion and carbon sequestration on flows and stores of carbon.
  • Positive and negative feedback loops within and between the water and carbon cycles.

The pathways and processes which control the cycling of water and carbon vary over time.

  • Short-term changes to the cycles and the significance of these changes, including diurnal and seasonal changes of climate, temperature, sunlight and foliage.
  • Long-term (millions of years) changes in the water and carbon cycles, including changes to stores and flows.
  • The importance of research and monitoring techniques to identify and record changes to the global water and carbon cycles; reasons why this data is gathered.

To what extent are the water and carbon cycles linked?

The two cycles are linked and interdependent.

  • The ways in which the two cycles link and are interdependent via oceans, atmosphere, cryosphere and vegetation.
  • How human activities cause changes in the availability of water and carbon (including fossil and terrestrial) stores, such as the use of these as resources.
  • The impact of long-term climate change on the water and carbon cycles.

The global implications of water and carbon management.

  • Global management strategies to protect the carbon cycle as a regulator of the Earth’s climate, including afforestation, wetland restoration, improving agricultural practices and reducing emissions (including carbon trading and international agreements).
  • Global management strategies to protect the water cycle including improving forestry techniques, water allocations for domestic, industrial and agricultural use and drainage basin planning (including run-off, surface stores and groundwater).
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