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Carbon Rainbow

Detailed Description


Not All Carbon is the Same

Scientists use color to classify carbon at different points in the carbon cycle based on carbon function, characteristics, and location. This creates a more descriptive framework than traditional "organic" and "inorganic" labels.

  • Purple - Carbon captured through the air or industrial emissions
  • Blue - Carbon stored in ocean plants and sediments
  • Teal - Carbon stored in freshwater and wetland environments
  • Green - Carbon stored in terrestrial plants
  • Black - Carbon released through the burning of fossil fuels
  • Gray - Carbon released through industrial emissions
  • Brown - Carbon released by incomplete combustion of organic matter
  • Red - Carbon released through biological particles on snow and ice that reduce albedo


  • Background: Field with Windmills and Rainbow, Paweł Fijałkowski,
  • 1 - The Colours of Carbon, Nature Reviews Earth & Environment
  • 2 - Green Carbon: The Role of Natural Forests in Carbon Storage, The Australian National University
  • 3 - Cut the ‘gray carbon wedge’ of industrial emissions, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy


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