bottle with fish and plants

Build your own bottle ecosystem to study the carbon cycle.

Carbon Cycle Diagrams

If you are looking for a carbon cycle diagram, there are a wide variety available on the web. Before we get to a list of what we think are the most informative, there are a few things you'll want to keep in mind.

  • Carbon cycle diagrams are helpful because they show how carbon moves between living and non-living things. Sometimes this is difficult to do with words alone.
  • Diagrams can be misleading. Sometimes they simplify too much or don't tell the whole story. A carbon cycle diagram might emphasize the relationship between plants and animals. But carbon dioxide is also absorbed by the oceans, created by factories and cars, and can be stored in sediment on the ocean floor.
  • It's best to look at a few different diagrams about the carbon cycle and ask yourself what they are trying to show and what they have left out.

Below is a table with six different carbon cycle diagrams. Strengths and weakness of each diagram are listed. If you look at all the diagrams you will develop a better understanding of the carbon cycle.

Carbon Cycle Diagram Matrix

Resource Description Strengths Weaknesses
The Carbon Cycle Game An animated diagram that lets you track carbon as it is stored in various places on earth. You can make decisions and answer questions about the movement of carbon in the cycle. This helps you understand the concepts better. Doesn't show the relationships between different parts of the carbon cycle.
Carbon Cycle Animation Another animated diagram (but simpler). Click on the text in blue and see the flow of carbon. Relates vocabulary to the flow of carbon. You also can predict what will happen before clicking. Doesn't show the relationships between parts of the carbon cycle.
Carbon Cycle Diagram A diagram of the things putting carbon in the atmosphere and taking it out. The diagram is detailed and shows relationships between parts of the cycle. Arrows show the flow of carbon. Arrows only show flow, not how much carbon is involved.
NOAA Carbon Cycle Diagram A carbon cycle diagram with arrows indicating how much carbon is transferred between parts of the carbon cycle. Shows how much carbon is stored in each part of the cycle. It also shows how much moves between different parts each year. Arrow size doesn't relate to amount. Size of elements don't relate to how much carbon they hold or transfer. Image is a bit small.
IPCC Carbon Cycle Diagram A very detailed diagram showing the flow of carbon in the carbon cycle. Shows carbon associated with human activities as red arrows. Image is large enough to see detail involved. Somewhat complicated, but an explanation is provided.
Day and Night Two diagrams showing the difference in the flow of carbon in the day and at night with explanatory text. The only diagram we found that shows what happens to carbon in the day and night. Very simple diagrams. Doesn't show amounts transferred.