adaptation an adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment. Adaptation to climate change refers to adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic changes. aerosols tiny bits of liquid or solid matter suspended in air. They come from natural sources such as erupting volcanoes and from waste gases emitted from automobiles, factories, and power plants. By reflecting sunlight, aerosols cool the climate and offset some of the warming caused by greenhouse gases.
albedo the relative reflectivity of a surface. A surface with high albedo reflects most of the light that shines on it and absorbs very little energy; a surface with low albedo absorbs most of the light energy that shines on it and reflects very little. anemometer a device for measuring wind speed. anthropogenic made by people or resulting from human activities. This term is usually used in the context of emissions produced as a result of human activities. atmosphere the thin layer of gases that surrounds the Earth and allows living organisms to breathe. It reaches 400 miles (644 km) above the surface, but 80 percent is concentrated in the troposphere—the lower seven miles (11 km) above the Earth's surface. barometer an instrument that measures atmospheric pressure. biodiversity different plant and animal species. biomass plant material that can be used for fuel. bleaching (coral) the loss of algae from corals that causes the corals to turn white. This is one of the results of global warming and signifies a die-off of unhealthy coral.
carbon dioxide a colorless, odorless gas that forms when carbon atoms combine with oxygen atoms. Carbon dioxide is a tiny but vital part of the atmosphere. The heat-absorbing ability of carbon dioxide is what makes life possible on Earth.
carbon sink an area where large quantities of carbon are built up in the wood of trees, in calcium carbonate rocks, in animal species, in the oceans and in any other place where carbon is stored. These places act as reservoirs, keeping carbon out of the atmosphere.
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) gases that were once widely used as coolants in refrigerators and air conditioners, as foaming agents for insulation and food packaging, and as cleaning agents in certain industries. They are long-lasting compounds that absorb heat energy more effectively than carbon dioxide. When they enter the upper atmosphere, they destroy ozone, which protects life on Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation. An international treaty calls for all production of CFCs to stop by 2010.
climate the usual pattern of weather averaged over a long period of time.
climate feedback An interaction mechanism between processes in the climate system whereby the result of an initial process triggers changes in a second process that in turn influences the initial one. A positive feedback intensifies the original process, and a negative feedback reduces it. climate model a quantitative way of representing the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice. Models can range from relatively simple to extremely complicated. climatologist a scientist who studies the climate. concentration the amount of a component in a given area or volume. In global warming, it is a measurement of how much of a particular gas is in the atmosphere compared to all the gases in the atmosphere. condensation the process that changes a gas into a liquid. deforestation the large-scale cutting of trees from a forested area, often leaving large areas bare and susceptible to erosion. ecosystem a community of interacting organisms and their physical environment.
El Niño a cyclic weather event in which the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean off the coast of South America become much warmer than normal and disturb weather patterns across the region. Its full name is El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO). Every few years, the temperature of the western Pacific rises several degrees above that of waters to the east. The warmer water moves eastward, causing shifts in ocean currents, jet stream winds, and weather in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
emissions the release of a substance (usually a gas when referring to climate change) into the atmosphere. evaporation the process by which a liquid, such as water, is changed to a gas.
évapotranspiration the transfer of moisture from the Earth to the atmosphere by evaporation of water and transpiration from plants. feedback a change caused by a process that in turn may influence that process. Some changes caused by global warming may hasten the process of warming (positive feedback); some may slow warming (negative feedback). fossil fuel an energy source made from coal, oil, or natural gas. The burning of fossil fuels is one of the chief causes of global warming.
glacier a mass of ice formed by the build-up of snow over hundreds and thousands of years. global warming an increase in the temperature of the Earth's atmosphere caused by the build-up of greenhouse gases; also referred to as the enhanced greenhouse effect caused by humans. global warming potential (GWP) Global warming potential (GWP) is the cumulative radiative forcing effects of a gas over a specified time resulting from the emission of a unit mass of gas relative to a reference gas (usually CO2). greenhouse effect the natural trapping of heat energy by gases present in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide, methane, and water vapor. The trapped heat is then emitted as heat back to the Earth.
greenhouse gas a gas that traps heat in the atmosphere and keeps the Earth warm enough to allow life to exist.
Gulf Stream a warm current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico across the Atlantic Ocean to northern Europe. It is largely responsible for Europe's mild climate.
humidity, relative the amount of water vapor in the air expressed as a percentage of the maximum amount the air could hold at that given temperature.
industrial revolution the period during which industry developed rapidly as a result of advances in technology. This took place in Britain during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
infrared the invisible heat radiation emitted by the Sun and by virtually every warm substance or object on Earth. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) an organization consisting of 2,500 scientists that assesses information in the scientific and technical literature related to the issue of climate change. The IPCC was established jointly by the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988.
land use the management practice of a certain land cover type. Land use may be such things as forest, arable land, grassland, urban land, and wilderness.
land use change an alteration of the management practice on a certain land cover type. Land use changes may influence climate systems because they affect evapotranspiration and sources and sinks of greenhouse gases. An example of land use change is removing a forest to build a city.
methane a colorless, odorless, flammable gas that is the major ingredient of natural gas. Methane is produced wherever decay occurs and little or no oxygen is present.
monsoon heavy rains that occur at the same time each year.
nitrogen as a gas, nitrogen makes up 80 percent of the volume of the Earth's atmosphere. It is also an element in substances such as fertilizer.
nitrous oxide a heat-absorbing gas in the Earth's atmosphere. Nitrous oxide is emitted from nitrogen-based fertilizers.
nuclear power the electricity produced by a process that begins with the splitting apart of uranium atoms, yielding great amounts of heat energy.
ozone a molecule that consists of three oxygen atoms. Ozone is present in small amounts in the Earth's atmosphere at 14 to 19 miles (23-31 km) above the Earth's surface. A layer of ozone makes life possible by shielding the Earth's surface from most harmful ultraviolet rays. In the lower atmosphere, ozone emitted from auto exhausts and factories is an air pollutant. parts per million (ppm) the number of parts of a chemical found in one million parts of a particular gas, liquid, or solid. permafrost permanently frozen ground in the Arctic. As global warming increases, this ground is melting. photosynthesis the process by which plants make food using light energy, carbon dioxide, and water. protocol the terms of a treaty that have been agreed to and signed by all parties.
radiation the particles or waves of energy. rain gauge an instrument for measuring rainfall. relative humidity see humidity, relative.
resources the raw materials from the Earth that are used by humans to make useful things. satellite any small object that orbits a larger one. Artificial satellites carry instruments for scientific study and communication. Imagery taken from satellites is used to monitor aspects of global warming such as glacier retreat, ice cap melting, desertification, erosion, hurricane damage, and flooding. Sea surface temperatures and measurements are also obtained from human-made satellites in orbit around the Earth. simulation a computer model of a process based on actual facts. The model attempts to mimic, or replicate, actual physical processes.
temperate an area that has a mild climate and different seasons. thermal related to heat.
tropical a region that is hot and often wet (humid). These areas are located around the Earth's equator. tundra a vast treeless plain in the Arctic with a marshy surface covering a permafrost layer. ultraviolet radiation a portion of the Sun's electromagnetic spectrum that consists of very short wavelengths and high energy. The atmosphere's ozone layer protects life on Earth from the damaging effects of UV radiation.
weather the conditions of the atmosphere at a particular time and place. Weather includes such measurements as temperature, precipitation, air pressure, and wind speed and direction.
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