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Glossary

Standards Key

Acclimatize
To adjust to changes in environmental variables.

Adaptation
The responsive adjustment of a sense organ (as the eye) to varying conditions; the process of adapting to something (such as environmental conditions).

Anthropogenic
Having to do with man, or caused by humans.

Atmosphere
The area in which all air exists; this sphere contains all of the gases that surround the earth.

Biodiversity
A property of ecosystems related to the number of different plant and animal species they contain.

Biogeochemistry
Scientific study of the interactions among the biological, geological, and chemical systems of Earth, including the cycling of matter and energy through them; biogeochemical (adverb).

Biome
Major division of the ecological communities on Earth characterized by the plant and animal life of that region.

Biosphere
The area in which all living things exist; this sphere includes all of the microorganisms, plants, and animals of Earth, even humans.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
A colorless, odorless, incombustible gas, CO2, formed during respiration, combustion, and organic decomposition and used in food refrigeration, carbonated beverages, inert atmospheres, fire extinguishers, and aerosols.

Carbon sink
A place where carbon accumulates and is stored. For example, plants and trees are carbon sinks; they accumulate carbon dioxide during the process of photosynthesis and store it in their tissues as carbohydrates and other organic compounds.

Carbon source
A place where carbon is produced or released. For example, plants release carbon in the form of carbon dioxide when their tissues are broken down during combustion. In addition, cars release carbon dioxide as they burn gasoline, and power plants release carbon dioxide when they burn fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)
Anthropogenic aerosol compound containing chlorine, fluorine, and carbon that is used in propellants, refrigerants, and solvents; freon.

Climate
Long-term pattern of weather that characterizes a region.

CO2 Sequestration
The process of removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and making it unavailable for release back to the air.

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Cryosphere
The sum total of earth's fresh water supply that is locked up in frozen forms including polar ice, mountain glaciers, permafrost and snow.

Cyclone
An area of low-pressure often associated with stormy weather.

Deforestation
The removal of trees from a previously pristine area, generally by logging to obtain lumber products.

Ecosystems
Communities of plants, animals and bacteria, generally composed of producers, consumers and decomposers that share a common physical and chemical environment.

Evaporation
The movement of gaseous water (water vapor) from the Earth's surface to the atmosphere; evaporate (verb).

Emission
Substance that is released or discharged, usually into the air; emit (verb).

Eustatic Sea Level Change
Changes in sea level caused by changes in the water volume of the world's oceans, such as those brought about by the formation or melting of mountain glaciers and polar ice caps.

Fixation of carbon
Another name for the photosynthetic process, whereby carbon is removed from the air and "fixed" or incorporated into plant tissues.

Fixed
A shorthand term for the "fixation of carbon," which is the process by which plants remove CO2 from the air and incorporate it into their tissues.

Food chain
A sequence of organisms in an ecosystem in which each member feeds on the member below it.

Fossil fuels
Deposits of organic matter that have been altered over geologic time (since the Earth's formation) and can be burned for energy; for example, coal, crude oil, and natural gas.

Global carbon cycle
The cyclical movement of carbon within the biosphere. Carbon is primarily removed from the air by plants during photosynthesis and by dissolving in bodies of water. Carbon is generally returned to the air via biological respiration, decomposition of organic matter, volcanic activity, and society's industrial activities, including the combustion of fossil fuels.

Global climate change
A change in the long-term weather patterns that is characteristic of regions of the world.

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Greenhouse gases
Gases such as water vapor, carbon dioxide and methane that are relatively transparent to the short wavelength solar radiation that emanates from the sun but that are fairly opaque to the longer wavelength thermal radiation that emanates from the surface of a planet. Other greenhouse gases include Nitrous oxide, HFC’s, SF6 and CFC’s but will not be covered in depth in this unit.

Hurricane
A tropical cyclone with winds in excess of 64 knots (74 mph).

Hydrocarbon
An organic chemical compound consisting only of carbon and hydrogen atoms in the gaseous, liquid or solid phase. (Greek hydor, water + Latin, carbo, charcoal).

Hydrosphere
The area in which water exists; for the purpose of this module, this sphere includes all liquid water on Earth, such as rivers, lakes and oceans, all frozen waters such as glaciers, icebergs, and polar icecaps, and all water vapor.

Hypothesis
A supposition or idea about something. In the scientific realm, it generally relates to physical or chemical interactions among various entities of nature.

Ice age
A period of extensive glaciations over large portions of earth's continents accompanied by reduced global temperature and changes in atmospheric circulation.

Interest
An immediate underlying concern applied to a specific situation or issue that usually reflects a person's personal interest or motivation. Competing interests result from a difference in perspective and motivation.

Isostatic Sea Level Change
Changes in sea level caused by the rising or falling of various portions of the earth's crust.

Methane
An odorless, colorless, flammable gas, CH4, the major constituent of natural gas, that is used as a fuel and is an important source of hydrogen and a wide variety of organic compounds.

Mitigation
To act in such a way as to cause an offense to seem less serious. Related to climate change, mitigation refers to actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions at their source or actions that remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Particulate matter
Small particles of matter such as dust and soot that are suspended in the air.

Parts per million (ppm)
Unit of measure most often used to describe the amount of a particular gas or compound in the air or water; it is the proportion of the number of molecules of the gas or compound out of a million (1,000,000,000) molecules of air or water.

Photosynthesis
The process by which plants use sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide to produce their food.

Planetary degassing
Any process that results in the escape of volatile substances from the crust of a planet. An example is the release of CO2 to earth's atmosphere via volcanoes.

Plate tectonics
A theory explaining the present and past locations of continents due to massive movement of the Earth’s crust.

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Preferred Action
What the stakeholder thinks should be done about the specific issue; what action, if any, the stakeholder says should be taken.

Precipitation
The movement of liquid or solid water (rain, sleet, snow, etc.) from the atmosphere to the Earth's surface; precipitate (verb).

Precipitation Efficiency
The efficiency with which atmospheric moisture is converted to precipitation, often described as the ratio of precipitation to total available moisture.

Proxy data
Data obtained from objects that are sensitive to climatic phenomena. Some examples are tree ring widths, ice cores, pollen deposits, glacier lengths and deep sea sediments. Analyses of such data can be used to provide estimates of past climate conditions, such as temperature, precipitation, or wind speed.

Shade-intolerant species
Plants that typically grow in places that receive lots of direct sunlight. They generally have high relative growth rates, highly-regulated stomata and thin leaves.

Shade-tolerant species
Plants that typically grow in places that receive less than full sunlight, such as the lower levels of a forest. They generally have low relative growth rates, open stomata and thick densely-packed leaves.

Stakeholder
Those individuals, groups, organizations and/or institutions that have a role in the problem and/or its solution and a stake in the outcome.

Topography
Having to do with elevation or "lay of the land," i.e., surface features.

Urban heat island
A region of warmer air temperature (relative to the surrounding countryside) in a metropolitan area. Urban heat islands have been documented to exist in cities with as few as a thousand inhabitants.

Volcanism
Those processes collectively that result in the formation of volcanoes and their products.

Weather
Short-term (daily) changes in temperature, wind, and/or precipitation in a region

Definitions modified from
http://www.co2science.org/dictionary/define.htm and http://davem2.cotf.edu/ete/modules/climate/GCglossary.html

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