State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School

Tale of a Carbon Atom

carbon fossil history

I am a wild carbon atom,
To others I’ve sometimes been bound,
Not locked in some hard, rocky stratum,
I’m telling you: I get around!

As carbon dioxide I spewed
Forth during floods of basalt
The P-T, some folks have been rude:
They say that it’s partly my fault!

About 50 million years passed;
The air got too crowded for me.
My buddies and I then in-gassed
Down into the salty sea.

There, we broke up some water
Stole an H and an O.
The leftover H found C fodder,
It was hot, reefs struggled to grow.

Oh baby, the early Cretaceous,
Now that was a happenin’ time.
Plankton were rife and bodacious;
I left the party with lime.

On the seafloor I rested, just chillin’,
Then my neighbors and I were dissolved!
They’re still on the hunt for the villain;
Some say methane was involved.

I’ll tell you, if you want to learn
Of acidifications now past:
For sea bugs to feel that harsh burn,
The pH change has to be fast.

If acid’s more rapid than base
(if it beats out the weathering flux)
Then carbonate shells lose the race …
For some critters, that really sucks.

So what? pH’s varied since life began;
Many things drop it or spike it.
I’ve seen crazy things, but this modern world, Man …
I’ve never seen anything like it!


Further reading:

The Geological Record of Ocean Acidification, Science, 2012

Katherine Allen is a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

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Raheel Farooq
9 years ago

They’re still on the hunt for the villain;
Some say methane was involved.
Hahaha. That’s where science and art meet!
Great read, Katherine. You made me smile after a hectic day. Thank you!

Ba Zi Dashi
9 years ago

Fantastic. You make a poem out of carbon atom.