Carbon cycle

The main atmospheric greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide. Its concentration in the atmosphere is controlled by the global carbon cycle.

Scientists are interested in all parts of this cycle, which operate on different time-scales. For example, exchange between the pool of soil carbon and the atmosphere generally operates over 10s to 10 000s of years, whilst carbon which enters the ocean to be stored in sediments or rocks may only return to the atmosphere over millions of years. There is three times as much carbon in global soils and vegetation than in the atmosphere.

Each year, 10 per cent of the atmospheric pool of carbon is exchanged with this active soil and vegetation pool, so scientists need to understand the mechanisms which control this and find ways either to minimise losses from it, or increase it.

Selected research

Slice of a soil aggregateOrganic matter in soil aggregates

Does the location of organic matter in soil aggregates influence whether bacteria can access it? Seeing through soil to locate soil organic matter.

Dyfi estuaryCarbon fluxes in the Dyfi estuary, Wales

Coastal scientists at the BGS, in collaboration with the universities of Bangor and Aberystwyth, are examining how the flux of material in estuaries responds to short-term events such as river floods.

Mapping soil carbonMapping soil carbon from the air

BGS geologists have found a way to improve estimates of the concentration of organic carbon in the soil.

Carbon movementCarbon movement and storage

Rates of soil erosion and accumulation used to assess the movement and storage of organic carbon and nitrogen in upland landscapes.

Carbon captureCarbon capture and storage

Research about the ways in which carbon dioxide (CO2) can be captured and stored in suitable deep geological formations.

Carbon and peatCarbon and peat dynamics

Understanding soil carbon storage and dynamics in a diverse range of soil and Quaternary environments.