Carbon Source Definition, Comparison and Examples Explained

A carbon source is a molecule, system or process which comprises of, produces, and releases carbon to the environment. This article discusses carbon source definition and major examples as follows;


-Carbon Source Definition: 6 Ways to Define a Carbon Source

-Carbon Source Vs Carbon Sink

-Major Carbon Sources



Carbon Source Definition: 6 Ways to Define a Carbon Source

Carbon source is a broad term used to refer to all entities that are rich in carbon, and capable of actively supplying carbon to the ecosystem.

The concept of carbon source can be analyzed based on its difference from carbon sinks; where the carbon sources supply carbon and carbon sinks capture and store, or sequester carbon. This is shown in the alternative carbon source definition below;

Carbon source is a system which counteracts carbon sinks, by producing and releasing carbon into the environment.

Another important factor is environmental relevance. The following carbon source definition highlights its role in environmental dynamics;

A carbon source is a molecule, body, or process that can lead to environmental degradation in the form of air quality decline, greenhouse emission, climate change and global warming; by releasing carbon dioxide and other forms of carbon into the environment [3].

An alternative carbon source definition is given below, which further highlights its effects;

A carbon source is any entity that produces carbon in relatively-large quantities, and which facilitate greenhouse emission and biodegradation, while inhibiting microbial growth [1].

Examples of carbon sources are highlighted in the alternative carbon source definition below;

A carbon source is a carbon-producing natural or artificial system or process; such as, biomass, fossil fuel, biodegradation, combustion, volcanic eruption and deforestation, which comprises of, or releases, carbon into the environment [2].

Carbon Source Definition: Volcanic Eruption as an Example of a Carbon Source (Credit: Darkimages08 2008 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)
Carbon Source Definition: Volcanic Eruption as an Example of a Carbon Source (Credit: Darkimages08 2008 .CC BY-SA 4.0.)


The carbon source definition which is given below, describes the concept based on its ecological significance;

A carbon source is a system or process which supplied bioenergy in the form of carbon-rich biomass, that is cycled, utilized, stored and released by organisms across all trophic levels of the energy pyramid.

The dynamic of carbon between its sources and sinks in the natural ecosystem is similar to the process of recycling, but differs slightly in terms of complexity, as well as the release of large quantities of carbon into the atmosphere.


Carbon Source Vs Carbon Sink

The difference between carbon sources and sinks lies in their function, where the carbon source produces and releases carbon, while the carbon sink absorbs, captures, or stores carbon.

Another analogy is that carbon sources emit more carbon than they absorb, while carbon sinks absorb more carbon than they emit.

It is important to note that the roles of carbon sources and sinks are often simultaneous and complementary. For example, biodegradation of organic matter is a carbon source process which releases CO2 while enriching the soil to facilitate the growth of vegetation; a known carbon sink that absorbs atmospheric CO2 in the process of photosynthesis.

Carbon sources and sinks can also be differentiated based on their examples, where carbon sources include biodegradation, volcanic eruption, combustion, biomass and fossil fuels, while carbon sinks include forests, oceans, and photosynthetic processes.


The following table summarizes the difference between carbon sources and sinks;

Comparison Criteria

Carbon Source

Carbon Sink


A molecule; system or process that emits more carbon than it absorbs

A molecule, process or system that absorbs more carbon than it emits


Carbon production and emission

Carbon capture and storage

Ecologic Relevance

Nutrient cycling, bioenergy supply

Environmental remediation, climate change mitigation


Deforestation, desertification,



Major Carbon Sources

The four (4) major carbon sources are;

1). Organic waste

2). Magma

3). Living organisms

4). Degradation processes (like biodegradation and combustion)



A carbon source is any system or process that is carbon-rich, and releases more carbon to the environment than it absorbs.

Carbon source differs from carbon sink in terms of function, with carbon sources being suppliers and carbon sinks being absorbers of carbon dioxide.

The 4 major carbon sources are; organic waste, magma, living organisms, and degradation processes.



1). Clemente, R. S.; Guijo, I.; Nogales, J.; Blasco, R. (2020). “Carbon Source Influence on Extracellular pH Changes along Bacterial Cell-Growth.” Genes 11(11):1292. Available at: (Accessed 18 September 2022).

2). Tahir, S. N.; Rafique, M.; Alaamer, A. S. (2010). “Biomass fuel burning and its implications: Deforestation and greenhouse gases emissions in Pakistan.” Environmental Pollution 158(7):2490-5. Available at: (Accessed 18 September 2022).

3). Yoro, K. O.; Daramola, M. O. (2020). “CO2 emission sources, greenhouse gases, and the global warming effect.” Advances in Carbon Capture (pp.1-28). Available at: (Accessed 18 September 2022).

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