The Strange Case of the Missing Carbon

Perhaps one of the greatest arguments that God designed and created the world in which we live is the fact that with all we have done to it, if it had not been designed with incredible wisdom it would have long ago become uninhabitable. One of the greatest demonstrations of this resilience in the creation is the way in which carbon is recycled in the environment. Realize that carbon dioxide is the end product of just about everything that humans do. When we burn something, the vast percentage of what is produced is carbon dioxide. When all of our animals and when we ourselves breath we exhale carbon dioxide. Over all our measurements indicate that 7 billion metric tons (2,204 pounds in a metric ton) of carbon are added to the atmosphere every year by man directly or indirectly. When scientists measure how much carbon is accumulating in the atmospbere, they find that only about 3.4 billion tons is actually staying in the atmosphere. The question is, what is happening to the missing 3.6 billions tons?

All of us know that plants take in carbon dioxide, and the first reaction to this discussion might be that the carbon is simply absorbed by plants and recycled into the environment. Studies done on plants show that they do not permanently lockup much carbon. When plants die they decompose, and the product of that decomposition is carbon dioxide. In the end the amount of carbon that a plant absorbs in its lifetime is not too far away from the amount it puts back into the air when it decomposes. It is interesting that with the heavy destruction of plant life-especialiy trees over the past 100 years, there has not been a corresponding increase in the accumulation of carbon.

A second possible answer to the missing carbon is the oceans. Studies done on ocean absorption of carbon dioxide show that no more than one billion tons of the gas can be absorbed in a given year. The problem is that carbon dioxide is not very soluble in water. All of us know that a bottle of pop left at room temperature and at normal atmospheric pressure gives off its carbon dioxide in a constant stream of bubbles. In addition to that, the same problem of carbon dioxide given off during decay applies to ocean plants that apply to land plants.

The fact of the matter is that there is no answer at the moment as to what is happening to the missing carbon. There are many implications to this problem. Obviously the whole question of global warming and the consequences of the Greenhouse Effect are related to this question, and the Gain promoters would view this as another dynamic feature of the living earth. We would simply point out that the complexity of the creation is so enormous that man's knowledge continues to be miniscule in the face of the facts. God designed the creation with the realization that there has to be incredible flexibility in the chemical systems to accommodate man and all the stress that man would place on the creation. If we take care of what God has given us, it should continue to provide for our physical needs. It is just one more way of knowing that there is a God through the things that he has made (Romans 1:19-23).

--Data from Discover, December, 1993, page 38      -JNC   
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