Changing carbon: Disrupting a balanced system

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Natural processes continually move carbon around the Earth system, releasing and absorbing it in turn. These natural carbon fluxes are far larger than the amounts of carbon released into the atmosphere by human activities, but over timescales of decades to centuries the natural fluxes cancel each other out, keeping the natural carbon cycle in balance. As carbon levels in the atmosphere have risen, natural carbon sinks have increased their absorption. However, this ‘natural compensation’ is not sufficient to take up all the extra carbon added to the atmosphere by human activities. So the remainder accumulates in the atmosphere, unbalancing the carbon cycle and changing the climate.