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Where was all the carbon before it became locked up in fossil fuels?

Where was all the carbon before it became locked up in what became fossil fuels and if it was in the atmosphere (as we are now gradually returning it), what was the environment like?
James Beam from Warwickshire (Age 45-54)

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One Response

  1. The carbon that became locked up in fossil fuels was originally in the atmosphere, before it was taken up by plants and then buried and made into coal and oil bearing rocks.

    The thing is that it was never in the atmosphere all at the same time. The processes which form coal and oil are happening all the time, and continue right now. Coal is thought to be made when peat bogs are buried, mostly in temperate regions. Oil bearing rocks form when sediment rich in dead plants and animals is buried deep under the seafloor, and this tends to occur mostly in tropical regions. Therefore, while climate has varied through geological time at least some coal and oil will have been formed at times when the environment was very similar to how it is now.

    The processes which form coal and oil are extremely slow. The fossil fuels which we have burnt will have taken many millions of years to form, which is why releasing the carbon they contain back to the atmosphere over only a few hundred years tends to increase global atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

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