Differences Between Carbon And Nitrogen Cycle

Last Updated on March 19, 2022 by QCity Editorial Stuff

The carbon and nitrogen cycles are both important to live on Earth. The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon moves through land, water, and air. Carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere undergoes photosynthesis to form plant material, which can then be consumed by animals or decompose into soil nutrients through respiration or decay. Nitrogen also plays a vital role in all ecosystems; it is one of the most abundant elements on earth and makes up about 80% of our atmosphere. While both elements are important for life, they function differently within each cycle.

The carbon and nitrogen cycle are both essential cycles in the environment. The carbon cycle consists of the processes that take place to convert organic compounds back into a form that can be used by living organisms, while the nitrogen cycle involves converting atmospheric nitrogen into forms that plants and animals can use. While they may seem similar, there are several key differences between these two important cycles.

Comparison Between Carbon And Nitrogen Cycle

Parameters of ComparisonCarbon cycleNitrogen cycle
System The carbon cycle is the process by which carbon, in one form or anotherThe nitrogen cycle refers to the natural processes that involve nitrogen as it moves through various environments on earth.
Take place The carbon cycle takes place over about 100 yearsnitrogen cycles can take anywhere from 1-100 years.
Air Carbon gets into our air when we burn fossil fuels like oil or coal. Nitrogen enters our atmosphere when we use fertilizers for agricultural purposes
Gas Carbon is a gasNitrogen is a liquid.

What Is The Carbon Cycle?

What Is The Carbon Cycle

The cycle of carbon is a process that allows the earth to store and move carbon atoms around. It is this movement that keeps our atmosphere breathable by allowing plants to absorb CO2 as they grow, storing it in their cells as cellulose, releasing oxygen back into the air for us to breathe. 

In simpler terms, the carbon cycle refers to all of the processes through which carbon moves from Earth’s atmosphere into living organisms and then back out again along different paths. Plants use some types of photosynthesis (or other forms) to harness solar energy and turn it into food by using water and minerals absorbed from the soil, releasing oxygen as a waste product. Animals consume these plants or eat animals that have eaten them; either directly or indirectly we all eat organic carbon compounds, which are the result of trees and other photosynthetic organisms. 

What Is The Nitrogen Cycle?

Nitrogen is the most abundant element in Earth’s atmosphere, but it cannot be used by organisms to build proteins and nucleic acids unless it has been “fixed” into another compound. The nitrogen cycle describes the processes through which nitrogen moves between its various molecular forms. This process involves several biological and chemical transformations that include fixation (the conversion of atmospheric nitrogen (N2) to ammonia (NH3)), nitrification (the conversion of ammonia to nitrite), denitrification, volatilization, mineralization, assimilation, and dissimilation. The first step in the process starts with bacteria called diazotrophs that fix atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia using either anaerobic or aerobic conditions as their energy source.

Nitrogen is a gas that makes up 78% of the Earth’s atmosphere. The nitrogen cycle is a term used to describe how nitrogen moves from one organism to another in an ecosystem, and back into the atmosphere. These organisms include animals, plants, bacteria, fungi, and other microorganisms. The cycling of nitrogen starts when organisms release ammonia or ammonium which are forms of nitrogen for example by eating food containing protein or carbohydrates. Ammonia can be broken down by some types of bacteria into nitrites and then nitrates which are also forms of nitrogen. When these compounds enter the water they can then be taken up by algae or plankton through photosynthesis where it is converted back into ammonia again thus completing the cycle.

10 Differences Between Carbon And Nitrogen Cycle

1. Carbon cycle is the process by which carbon, in one form or another, circulates among the atmosphere, hydrosphere (oceans and other water bodies), lithosphere (the Earth’s crust and upper mantle), and biosphere.

2. Nitrogen cycle refers to the natural processes that involve nitrogen as it moves through various environments on earth.

3. The carbon cycle takes place over about 100 years while nitrogen cycles can take anywhere from 1-100 years.

4. Carbon gets into our air when we burn fossil fuels like oil or coal. 

5. Nitrogen enters our atmosphere when we use fertilizers for agricultural purposes; this causes emissions of nitrous oxide gas into the air which contributes to global warming.

6. When plants grow they absorb carbon dioxide from the air around them; during photosynthesis, this CO2 is converted back into oxygen plus sugar plus starch plus cellulose – these are all organic compounds containing C atoms.

7. Carbon is a gas while Nitrogen is a liquid.

8. Carbon cycle takes place on land while the nitrogen cycle takes place in the ocean.

9. Carbon dioxide is released when fossil fuels are burned for energy production, while nitrous oxide is released from agricultural practices.

10. The carbon cycle includes photosynthesis and respiration, while the nitrogen cycle only includes photosynthesis.

Interesting Statistics Or Facts Of The Carbon Cycle

1. The carbon cycle is the movement of carbon between living and non-living things on Earth.

2. Carbon makes up about 98% of all life on Earth.

3. Plants use photosynthesis to turn sunlight into energy, which they store as sugar in their tissues.

4. When plants die or are eaten, that stored sugar can be released back into the atmosphere as CO2 (carbon dioxide). 

5. Animals eat plants and other animals; when they exhale, some of that stored sugar turns back into CO2. 

6. Humans release CO2 through burning fossil fuels like coal, oil, and natural gas for energy production or transportation purposes.

Interesting Statistics Or Facts Of The Nitrogen Cycle

1. Nitrogen is the most abundant gas in Earth’s atmosphere.

2. The nitrogen cycle takes place on land and in water.

3. When plants die, they release nitrogen into the soil.

4. Animals eat plants and excrete waste that contains nitrates which can be used by other organisms such as bacteria or algae for their growth process.

5. Microorganisms break down organic matter into nitrate molecules that combine with oxygen from the air to create nitric acid.

6. Bacteria then convert the nitrate back into nitrogen gas so it can return to Earth’s atmosphere through a plant’s leaves.


Carbon and nitrogen cycles are different. Nitrogen is more abundant than carbon, but the two substances play an equal role in maintaining a healthy environment for plants and animals alike. Carbon enters into the cycle as dead organic matter such as leaves, branches, or animal carcasses that decompose over time to form new soil particles. The process of photosynthesis involves green plants using sunlight to turn water and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into oxygen and glucose (a type of sugar). This stored energy can be used by other organisms like humans who consume these plants directly through eating their fruit or indirectly when livestock eat them too. In contrast, nitrogen enters the cycle during periods of heavy rainfall which causes nitrates in fertilizers applied to crops to wash away with runoff water.


Resource 01: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/CarbonCycle
Resource 02: https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2019.00041

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