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Carbon Cycles

How is carbon stored in the permafrost?

As permafrost thaws, the plants and dead animals frozen in the ground for many years melt. Decomposing bacteria break down this dead material and give off more carbon dioxide as more food is available through thawing.  This carbon is cycled from the frozen ground into the atmosphere. Increased carbon in the atmosphere contributes to the greenhouse effect on Earth.

All living things need carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen to survive. These four elements make up most of the molecules in a living organism.  Where do they come from? How do organisms get these nutrients to survive? Each ecosystem has a unique set of resources such as water, sunlight, and nutrients. These resources help to shape the plant and animal communities that live in a specific area. The coastal tundra is influenced by long dark winters, long sunny days in the summer, and a mixing of salt and freshwater. The coastal marsh also has a unique soil made of silty river deposits. Only certain types of plants can grow there. The types of plants in an area determine the kind of animals that can live their.

Animals and plants that live in the same ecosystem adapt over time. Many plants and animals develop complex relationships that help each other survive. Studying the carbon and nitrogen cycles helps us understand this relationship from a scientific view point.

The Carbon Cycle

 Scientists at the Tutakoke research camp are measuring the amount of carbon given off by plants in the tundra under normal temperatures. They are building warming chambers to compare how an increase in a few degrees of temperature will affect the carbon production of tundra plants. This research will help us understand local ecology and make predictions about the future.

Watch this video to learn more about the complexity of the carbon cycle on Earth.

Carbon Cycle Video Reflection questions:

  • Where is carbon stored?
  • Where are the most concentrated amounts of carbon stored?
  • What will happen to the carbon cycle if the ocean warms up?
  • How does carbon move through the Earth’s system? Draw a picture of the carbon cycle.

The Nitrogen Cycle

Nitrogen is an important nutrient for healthy plant growth.  Geese increase the amount of nitrogen in the soil by grinding grass in their stomachs. Geese don’t absorb all the nutrients in the grass. The mechanical chewing and digesting makes the nitrogen more available to plants as poop. The geese also stomp their poop into the soil as they walk through the mud. This helps create a richer soil for coastal marsh plants.

 Tutakoke; alaska; birds; brant; goose; tundra



Watch this video on the human poop cycle and then make a comparison of how your nitrogen waste and goose waste can act as fertilizers adding nutrients to the soil for plant growth.

Nitrogen Video Reflection questions:

  •  There is small willow plant that grow among these sedges and grasses called Salix Obvilata. What do fertilizers do? How can they help plants?
  • Which of these plants do you think needs more nitrogen?
  • Some soils are deficient, or very low in nitrogen. The type of plants that can grow in an area can be influenced by nitrogen levels.
  •  What do you think would happen to the nitrogen levels of the soil if geese weren’t pooping on them?