46.3A: Biogeochemical Cycles - Biology

46.3A: Biogeochemical Cycles - Biology

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The elemental components of organic matter are cycled through the biosphere in an interconnected process called the biogeochemical cycle.

Learning Objectives

  • Summarize the concept of biogeochemical cycles

Key Points

  • Carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur are conserved and recycled in the atmosphere, on land, in water, or beneath the earth’s surface.
  • Materials are recycled via erosion, weathering, water drainage, and the movement of tectonic plates.
  • Water is essential to all living processes, while carbon is found in all organic macromolecules.
  • Nitrogen and phosphorus are major components of nucleic acids and play major roles in agriculture.
  • Sulfur plays a role in the three-dimensional folding of proteins and is released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels.

Key Terms

  • hydrosphere: combined mass of water found on, under, and over the surface of a planet
  • biogeochemical cycle: cycling of mineral nutrients through ecosystems and through the non-living world

Biogeochemocal Cycles: Introduction

Energy flows directionally through ecosystems, entering as sunlight (or inorganic molecules for chemoautotrophs) and leaving as heat during the many transfers between trophic levels. However, the matter that makes up living organisms is conserved and recycled. The six most common elements associated with organic molecules (carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, and sulfur) take a variety of chemical forms and may exist for long periods in the atmosphere, on land, in water, or beneath the earth’s surface. Geologic processes, such as weathering, erosion, water drainage, and the movement of the continental plates, all play a role in this recycling of materials. Because geology and chemistry have major roles in the study of this process, the recycling of inorganic matter between living organisms and their environment is called a biogeochemical cycle.

The components of organic molecules are constantly being stored and recycled as part of their biogeochemical cycle. Water, which contains hydrogen and oxygen, is essential to all living processes. The hydrosphere is the area of the earth where water movement and storage occurs. Water can be liquid on the surface and beneath the surface or frozen (rivers, lakes, oceans, groundwater, polar ice caps, and glaciers) or exist as water vapor in the atmosphere. Carbon, found in all organic macromolecules, is an important constituent of fossil fuels. Nitrogen, a major component of our nucleic acids and proteins, is critical to human agriculture. Phosphorus, a major component of nucleic acid (along with nitrogen), is one of the main ingredients in artificial fertilizers used in agriculture and their associated environmental impacts on our surface water. Sulfur, critical to the 3–D folding of proteins (as in disulfide binding), is released into the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels, such as coal.

The cycling of all of these elements is interconnected. For example, the movement of water is critical for the leaching of nitrogen and phosphate into rivers, lakes, and oceans. Furthermore, the ocean itself is a major reservoir for carbon. Thus, mineral nutrients are cycled, either rapidly or slowly, through the entire biosphere, from one living organism to another, and between the biotic and abiotic world.

Biogeochemical Cycle

The natural pathway through which essential elements in living matters undergoes circulation is known as a biogeochemical cycle. The natural elements in the biogeochemical cycles flow from abiotic (non-living) components to biotic (living) components.

Biogeochemical, as a term, refers to three aspects in each cycle. Those aspects are biological, geological and chemical.

Importance of Biogeochemical Cycle

Biogeochemical cycles help in the regulation of natural elements that are necessary for living beings, by channelling through physical and biological phenomenon. It acts as a recycling procedure in nature.

Types of Biogeochemical Cycles

The types of nutrient cycles largely fall under –

Reservoir in sedimentary bio-geo cycle is Earth’s crust and include earth-bound elements such as phosphorus, calcium, iron and sulphur among others.

Reservoir in gaseous bio-geo cycle is air or ocean and include carbon, oxygen and nitrogen.

While the abundance of carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen are found in human body, these elements have low occurrence on Earth’s elemental mass. This aspect perhaps will lead you to appreciate biogeochemical cycles importance. Imagine this, the majority elements that are so critical to lives of organisms, are a minuscule percentage of the Earth’s known mass. For instance, nitrogen has only 0.03% share!

Different Types of Cycles

If you are wondering, “what do you mean by biogeochemical cycle?”, a brief discussion on those may help you understand.

The biogeochemical cycle diagrams are indicated by pictorial representation.

Water cycle relates to the movement through various stages such as –

  • Evaporation
  • Condensation
  • Precipitation
  • Infiltration
  • Run-off

Water is indispensable for life’s existence, and ocean plays a vital role in the cycle. Atmospheric water vapour causes precipitation for which evaporation from water surface is critical. Water cycle also plays a critical role in weather, pressure and temperature in environment.

Carbon moves from atmosphere to living organisms and back again to the atmosphere. Plants are taken as the starting point of carbon cycle. The main stages in carbon cycle are – photosynthesis, respiration, combustion and decomposition.

Oxygen cycle is the movement of oxygen through atmosphere, biosphere and lithosphere. It is released through the process of photolysis. The main steps of the cycle include photosynthesis and respiration and further repetition.

Nitrogen is essential for life form owing to its presence in nucleic acids and proteins. Plants absorb nitrogen through microbial transformations. The main steps involved in the cycle –

  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Nitrogen assimilation
  • Ammonification
  • Nitrification
  • Denitrification

However, note that this is not sequential order.

Sulphur, which is present mainly as a component of amino acid, may be found in soil as proteins. It is eventually absorbed by plants as sulphates, through a host of microbial transformations.

The sulphur proteins convert into hydrogen sulphide (H2S) which is further broken down into sulphur in reaction with oxygen. With bacterial action, it becomes sulphate to be absorbed by plants.

Phosphorus mainly passes through hydrosphere, lithosphere and biosphere. It is essential for both animal and plant growth. However, it gradually depletes in soil. In comparison to the carbon cycle, the phosphorus cycle does not pass through the atmosphere.

[To check your answer, see the solution mentioned at the end of the article]

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

It is a type of natural cycle that facilitates the movement of naturally occurring matter within abiotic and biotic components of our existing ecosystem.

Biogeochemical cycle definition – A naturally occurring cycle that takes the pathway through biotic and abiotic factors of the environment in order to facilitate the circulation of essential elements comprising of living matter.

A biogeochemical cycle is a nutrient-rich slow-moving pool passing through both abiotic and biotic components. It picks up the naturally occurring elements from the abiotic component of ecosystem and infuses those in living cells. It is a continuous rapid exchange which may be both gaseous and sedimentary.

Biogeochemical Cycles

because matter on earth is limited in amount, and space for dead bodies as well.


If dead bodies accumulate on earth, then there will b no space to keep all of them. This is one reason why recycling their bodies is important.
Another point is that mater is found on earth and has been there since earth was developed and became ready to support life. After that matter has not been added to earth in big amount, nor in a regular manner, so it must be recycled to support the new organisms which are continuously being added to the ecosystem.


Deforestation affects biogeochemical cycling mainly by disrupting the water cycle, causing water to be lost more rapidly from the ecosystem and with it important elements and nutrients.


The biggest effect deforestation has on the biogeochemical cycles of a given area occurs via the disruption of the water cycle. Streams and rivers carry water away from the landscape and to the sea. Trees and other plants retain water by sucking it up from the ground and returning it to the atmosphere above through a process known as evapotranspiration.

Because water is an excellent solvent, elements like nitrogen and phosphorus and ions like calcium are all easily transported by water. When deforestation occurs water is no longer captured by the trees and all of the important ions and molecules are exported from the system by streams and rivers.

Some of the consequences include a loss of base cations from the soil, making them acidic - a harsh environment for biota. The loss of ammonium, nitrate and phosphate - important nutrients for growth - can lead to oligotrophic conditions. Increased water flow through the soil leads to erosion, which can remove organic materials that serve as food to soil organisms. Of course, without trees there is a loss of habitat and food resources needed by organisms that themselves influence biogeochemical cycling through their activities.

An excellent way to learn more about this particular topic is to review the research done at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire ( They were the first to quantify the changes due to deforestation.

The Carbon Cycle

Carbon is the second most abundant element in living organisms. Carbon is present in all organic molecules, and its role in the structure of macromolecules is of primary importance to living organisms. Carbon compounds contain especially high energy, particularly those derived from fossilized organisms, mainly plants, which humans use as fuel. Since the 1800s, the number of countries using massive amounts of fossil fuels has increased. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, global demand for the Earth’s limited fossil fuel supplies has risen therefore, the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased. This increase in carbon dioxide has been associated with climate change and other disturbances of the Earth’s ecosystems and is a major environmental concern worldwide. Thus, the “carbon footprint” is based on how much carbon dioxide is produced and how much fossil fuel countries consume.

The carbon cycle is most easily studied as two interconnected sub-cycles: one dealing with rapid carbon exchange among living organisms and the other dealing with the long-term cycling of carbon through geologic processes. The entire carbon cycle is shown in [link].

Click this link to read information about the United States Carbon Cycle Science Program.

Biogeochemical cycle

Biogeochemical Cycle Definition
A biogeochemical cycle is one of several natural cycles, in which conserved matter moves through the biotic and abiotic parts of an ecosystem.

Biogeochemical Cycles Definition
1. What are biogeochemical cycles?

Biogeochemical cycles are representations of the circulation and recycling of matter in nature.

Energy flows directionally through ecosystems, entering as sunlight (or inorganic molecules for chemoautotrophs) and leaving as heat during energy transformation between trophic levels. Rather than flowing through an ecosystem, the matter that makes up organisms is conserved and recycled.

s Biology Essay." 11 2013. All Answers Ltd. 04 2018 . Copy to Clipboard Reference Copied to Clipboard.

[Gk. bios, life + geo, earth + chemeia, alchemy kyklos, circle, wheel]
The various nutrient circuits, which involve both biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems.
biogeography .

s Movement of matter within or between ecosystems caused by living organisms, geological forces, or chemical reactions. The cycling of nitrogen, carbon, sulfur, oxygen, phosphorus, and water are examples.

Chloroplasts conduct photosynthesis and are found in plant cells and other eukaryotic organisms. These are Chloroplasts visible in the cells of Plagiomnium affine -- Many-fruited Thyme-moss.

: A way that a chemical element or molecule moves through both the biotic ("bio-") and abiotic ("geo-") parts of an ecosystem
Biological classification: Organization of how living things are related to each other
Biology: The study of living things .

In physical geography pedology is largely studied due to the numerous interactions between climate (water, air, temperature), soil life (micro-organisms, plants, animals), the mineral materials within soils (

s) and its position and effects on the landscape such as laterization.

More than thirty chemical elements are cycled through the environment by

s that transport carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulfur, and phosphorous. Recall that these six elements comprise the bulk of atoms in living things.

These permanent recyclings of the elements (in particular carbon, oxygen and nitrogen) as well as the water are called

s. They guarantee a durable stability of the biosphere (at least when human influence and extreme weather phenomena are left aside).

Nutrient circuits involve both biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems and are called

Interview with Anna-Louise Reysenbach, PhD Reysenbach is a microbial ecologist with special interests in the ecology of terrestrial and deep-sea hydrothermal vents, and in the evolution of

Why are biogeochemical cycles importnt​

the most important biogeochemical cycles affecting ecosystem health are the water, carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus cycles. because cycling of water is central to the functioning of land ecosystems, changes that affect the hydrologic cycle are likely to have significant impacts on land ecosystems.

1. nitrogen
a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by fixation, assimilation, ammonification, nitrification, denitrification, and the food chain

2. phosphorus
a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by weathering, erosion, tectonic activity, and the food chain

3. tectonic
a geochemical cycle that cycles material by mantle convection, subduction, and seafloor spreading

4. carbon
a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by photosynthesis, respiration, and the food chain

5. hydrologic
a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and transpiration

6. rock
a geochemical cycle that cycles material by weathering, erosion, deposition, cementation, and metamorphism

Hope this answers the question. Have a nice day.

It is D :-) it is important and it involves living as well nonliving parts of the system

The best description for each cycle

1. Nitrogen - a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by fixation, assimilation, ammonification, nitrification, denitrification, and the food chain.

2. Phosphorus - a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by weathering, erosion, tectonic activity, and the food chain.

3. Tectonic - a geochemical cycle that cycles material by mantle convection, subduction, and seafloor spreading.

4. Carbon - a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by photosynthesis, respiration, and the food chain.

5. Hydrologic - a biogeochemical cycle that cycles material by evaporation, condensation, precipitation, and transpiration.

6. Rock - a geochemical cycle that cycles material by weathering, erosion, deposition, cementation, and metamorphism.

The nitrogen cycle is a biogeochemical cycle by which nitrogen and its compounds are transformed and circulated in the environment and in living organisms. The processes of the nitrogen cycle include fixation, assimilation, ammonification, nitrification, and denitrification.

The phosphorus cycle is a biogeochemical cycle by which phosphorus moves through the lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. In the phosphorus cycle, there is movement of phosphorus through rocks, water, soil and sediments and organisms by processes such as weathering, erosion, tectonic activity, and the food chain.

The rock cycle is a biogeochemical cycle is an incorrect statement regarding the biogeochemical cycle.

In Biogeochemical cycles, chemical elements are recycled. These elements may accumulate in sinks and detain for a long time. This is a cycle by which a chemical molecule or element circulates through the non-living and living constituents of an ecosystem.

Nitrogen, hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen are the key components in a life of organisms. Therefore, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon cycles are kind of biogeochemical cycles.

Rocks are aggregates of minerals and majorly of three types:

Igneous Rocks Sedimentary Rocks Metamorphic Rocks

The rock cycle is a kind of illustration that helps in explaining how the three different kinds of rocks are associated with others and how the Earth processes modification in the different rocks. Modification in the rocks is developed to movement in tectonic plate movement. They recycle rock materials.

Learn more about earth science: Learn more about the layer of soil Learn more about a mixture of mineral

Rocks, rock cycle, biogeochemical cycle, organism, living, non-living, carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen, igneous rocks, metamorphic, sedimentary, tectonic plate, rock material.

What is the purpose of the biogeochemical cycles?

A naturally occurring cycle in which conserved matter present in various forms is cycled through the biosphere is called a biogeochemical cycle. A biosphere includes both biotic and abiotic elements of the ecosystem and their interaction among themselves as well as between each other.

The Earth acts as a closed system for the matter present inside it. Therefore, all the elements required for the chemical and structural processes of life are obtained from the already present matter within the Earth’s crust. This matter is continuously cycled within the Earth’s system and forms the biogeochemical cycles as they involve biological, chemical and geological processes.

The elements such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, sulfur, and hydrogen are important components of life. The transportation and storage of these elements occur through biogeochemical cycles in order to be used by the living organisms. The rate of recycling of each element varies depending on the different pathways they follow.

The biogeochemical cycles are categorized as gaseous and sedimentary cycles. The elements like oxygen, nitrogen, water, and carbon fall under gaseous cycle and the oceans or the air acts as the reservoir. On the other hand, phosphorous and sulfur are included in the sedimentary cycle for which Earth’ crust is the reservoir. The movement of gaseous cycles is more rapid as compared to the sedimentary cycles due to the presence of large atmospheric reservoir.

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Chapter: Biogeological cycles

Biogeochemical cycle, biosphere, components of life, carbon cycle, phosphorous cycle, sulfur cycle, oxygen cycle, hydrogen cycle, nitrogen cycle, water cycle, sedimentary cycle, gaseous cycle, atmospheric reservoir.

Biogeochemical Cycles | Biology

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Meaning and definition of biogeochemical cycles :

Any of the various nutrient circuits, which involve both biotic and abiotic components of ecosystems.

For the term biogeochemical cycles may also exist other definitions and meanings, the meaning and definition indicated above are indicative not be used for medical and legal or special purposes.

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Life on earth maintains its balance by the existence of four biogeochemical cycles, namely, the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle and the phosphorus cycle. These cycles are formed on the basis of various organic and inorganic nutrients which circulate through the cycle in different forms along these cycles. These cycles are essential because they prevent the nutrients from being depleted entirely and without these chemicals "life on earth would not be possible" (Phillips and Hilgendorf).