Biomass Energy

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Energy produced by combusting renewable biomass materials such as wood. The carbon dioxide emitted from burning biomass will not increase total atmospheric carbon dioxide if this consumption is done on a sustainable basis (i.e., if in a given period of time, regrowth of biomass takes up as much carbon dioxide as is released from biomass combustion). Biomass energy is often suggested as a replacement for fossil fuel combustion, which has large greenhouse gas emissions.


A naturally occurring community of flora and fauna (or the region occupied by such a community) adapted to the particular conditions in which they occur (e.g., tundra).


The region of land, oceans, and atmosphere inhabited by living organisms.

Black Carbon

Operationally defined species based on measurement of light absorption and chemical reactivity and/or thermal stability; consists of soot, charcoal, and/or possible light-absorbing refractory organic matter.


Any exploratory hole drilled into the Earth or ice to gather geophysical data. Climate researchers often take ice core samples, a type of borehole, to predict atmospheric composition in earlier years.


A system that lets several countries meet a reduction target together while having different individual targets.

Capital Stocks

The accumulation of machines and structures that are available to an economy at any point in time to prune goods or render services. These activities usually require a quantity of energy that is determined largely by the rate at which that machine or structure is used.

Carbon Cycle

The global scale exchange of carbon among its reservoirs, namely the atmosphere, oceans, vegetation, soils, and geologic deposits and minerals. This involves components in food chains, in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, in the hydrosphere, and in the geosphere.

Carbon Dioxide (CO2)

The greenhouse gas whose concentration is being most affected directly by human activities. CO2 also serves as the reference to compare all other greenhouse gases.

The major source of CO2 emissions is fossil fuel combustion. CO2 emissions are also a product of forest clearing, biomass burning, and non-energy production processes such as cement production. Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have been increasing at a rate of about 0.5 percent per year and are now about 30 percent above preindustrial levels.

Carbon Equivalent (CE)

A metric measure used to compare the emissions of the different greenhouse gases based upon their global warming potential (GWP). Greenhouse gas emissions in the United States are most commonly expressed as "million metric tons of carbon equivalents" (MMTCE). Global warming potentials are used to convert greenhouse gases to carbon dioxide equivalents.

Carbon Sequestration

The uptake and storage of carbon. Trees and plants, for example, absorb carbon dioxide, release the oxygen and store the carbon. Fossil fuels were at one time biomass and continue to store the carbon until burned.

Carbon Sinks

Carbon reservoirs and conditions that take in and store more carbon (carbon sequestration) than they release. Carbon sinks can serve to partially offset greenhouse gas emissions. Forests and oceans are common carbon sinks.

Chlorofluorocarbons and Related Compounds

This family of anthropogenic compounds includes chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), bromofluorocarbons (halons), methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methyl bromide, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These compounds have been shown to deplete stratospheric ozone, and therefore are typically referred to as ozone-depleting substances. The most ozone-depleting of these compounds are being phased out under the Montreal Protocol.

Clean Development Mechanisms (CDM) Article 12 of the Kyoto Protocol provides for the CDM whereby developed countries are able to invest in emissions-reducing projects in developing countries to obtain credit to assist in meeting their assigned amounts. The details of the CDM have yet to be negotiated at the international level.


The average weather for a particular region and time period. Climate is not the same as weather, but rather, it is the average pattern of weather for a particular region. Climatic elements include precipitation, temperature, humidity, sunshine, wind velocity, phenomena such as fog, frost, and hail storms, and other measures of the weather.

Climate Change

The term climate change refers to all forms of climatic inconsistency. Climate change has been used synonymously with the term global warming.

Climate Change Action Plan

Unveiled in October 1993 by President Clinton, the CCAP is the U.S. plan for meeting its pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions under the terms of the Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC). The goal of the plan was to reduce U.S. emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2000.

Climate Feedback

An atmospheric, oceanic, terrestrial, or other process that is activated by the direct climate change induced by changes in radiative forcing. Climate feedbacks may increase (positive feedback) or diminish (negative feedback) the magnitude of the climate change.

Climate System (or Earth System)

The five physical components (atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere) that are responsible for the climate and its variations.

Cloud Condensation Nuclei

Airborne particles that serve as an initial site for the condensation of liquid water and which can lead to the formation of cloud droplets.

CO2 Fertilization

The enhancement of plant growth as a result of elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations.

Coalbed Methane

Coalbed methane is methane contained in coal seams, and is often referred to as virgin coalbed methane, or coal seam gas. For more information, visit the Coal-bed Methane Outreach program site.

Coal Mine Methane

Coal mine methane is the subset of CBM that is released from the coal seams during the process of coal mining. For more information, visit the Coalbed Methane Outreach program site.


The process by which two different and useful forms of energy are produced at the same time. For example, while boiling water to generate electricity, the leftover steam can be sold for industrial processes or space heating.

Climate Lag

The delay that occurs in climate change as a result of some factor that changes only very slowly.


Decayed organic matter that can be used as a fertilizer or soil additive.

Climate Model

A quantitative way of representing the interactions of the atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice.

Climate Modeling

The simulation of the climate using computer-based models.

Climate Sensitivity

The equilibrium response of the climate to a change in radiative forcing; for example, a doubling of the carbon dioxide concentration.

Conference of the Parties (COP) The supreme body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It comprises more than 180 nations that have ratified the Convention. Its first session was held in Berlin, Germany, in 1995 and it is expected to continue meeting on a yearly basis. The COP's role is to promote and review the implementation of the Convention.


One of the interrelated components of the Earth's system, the cryosphere is frozen water in the form of snow, permanently frozen ground (permafrost), floating ice, and glaciers. Fluctuations in the volume of the cryosphere cause changes in ocean sea level, which directly impact the biosphere.


Those practices or processes that result in the change of forested lands to nonforest uses. This is often cited as one of the major causes of the enhanced greenhouse effect for two reasons: (1) the burning or decomposition of the wood releases carbon dioxide; and (2) trees that once removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in the process of photosynthesis are no longer present and contributing to carbon storage.


The progressive destruction or degradation of existing vegetative cover to form desert. This can occur due to overgrazing, deforestation, drought, and the burning of extensive areas.

Diurnal Temperature Range

The difference between maximum and minimum temperature over a period of 24 hours.

Economic Potential

The portion of the technical potential for GHG emissions reductions or energy-efficiency improvements that could be achieved cost-effectively in the absence of market barriers. The achievement of the economic potential requires additional policies and measures to break down market barriers.

Eddy Mixing

Mixing due to small scale turbulence processes (eddies). Such processes cannot be explicitly resolved by even the finest-resolution atmosphere-ocean general ciculation models currently in uses and so their effects must be related to the larger-scale conditions.

A climatic phenomenon occurring irregularly, but generally every three to five years. El Niños often first become evident during the Christmas season

(El Niño means Christ-child) in the surface oceans of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean. The phenomenon involves seasonal changes in the direction of the tropical winds over the Pacific and abnormally warm surface ocean temperatures. The changes in the tropics are most intense in the Pacific region; these changes can disrupt weather patterns throughout the tropics and can extend to higher latitudes.

Emission Permit

A nontransferable or tradeable allocation of entitlements by a government to an individual firm to emit a specific amount of a substance.

Emission Quota

The portion or share of total allowable emissions assigned to a country or group of countries within a framework of maximum total emissions and mandatory allocations of resources or assessments.


The release of a substance (usually a gas when referring to climate change) into the atmosphere.

Emission Standard

A level of emission that under law may not be exceeded.

Energy Intensity

Ration of energy consumption and economic or physical output. At the national level, energy intensity is the ratio of total domestic primary energy consumption or final energy consumption to gross domestic product or physical output.

Enhanced Greenhouse Effect

The natural greenhouse effect has been enhanced by anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases. Increased concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide, CFCs, HFCs, PFCs, SF , NF ,

and other photochemically important gases caused by human activities such as fossil fuel consumption and adding waste to landfills trap more infrared radiation, thereby exerting a warming influence.

Equilibrium Response

The steady state response of the climate system (or a climate model) to an imposed radiative forcing.

Evap otranspiration

The sum of evaporation and plant transpiration. Potential evapotranspiration is the amount of water that could be evaporated or transpired at a given temperature and humidity, if there was water available.


Carbon-fluorine compounds that often contain other elements such as hydrogen, chlorine, or bromine. Common fluorocarbons include chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), hydro-fluorocarbons (HFCs), and perfluorocarbons (PFCs).

Forcing Mechanism

A process that alters the energy balance of the climate system, i.e., changes the relative balance between incoming solar radiation and outgoing infrared radiation from Earth. Such mechanisms include changes in solar irradiance, volcanic eruptions, and enhancement of the natural greenhouse effect by emissions of greenhouse gases.


The soils, sediments, and rock layers of the Earth's crust, both continental and beneath the ocean floors.


A multiyear surplus accumulation of snowfall in excess of snowmelt on land and resulting in a mass of ice at least 0.1 km2 in area that shows some evidence of movement in response to gravity. A glacier may terminate on land or in water. Glaciers are found on every continent except Australia.

house gases in the U.S. inventory are presented in terms of equivalent emissions of carbon dioxide, using units of teragrams of carbon dioxide equivalents.

Greenhouse Effect

Trapping and buildup of heat in the atmosphere (troposphere) near the Earth's surface. Some of the heat flowing back toward space from the Earth's surface is absorbed by water vapor, carbon dioxide, ozone, and several other gases in the atmosphere and then rera-diated back toward the Earth's surface. If the atmospheric concentrations of these greenhouse gases rise, the average temperature of the lower atmosphere will gradually increase.

Greenhouse Gas (GHG)

Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases include, but are not limited to, water vapor, carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), ozone (O3), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).


Compounds containing either chlorine, bromine, or fluorine and carbon. Such compounds can act as powerful greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. The chlorine and bromine containing halocarbons are also involved in the depletion of the ozone layer.


Substances containing only hydrogen and carbon. Fossil fuels are made up of hydrocarbons.

Global Warming

Global warming is an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth's surface and in the troposphere, which can contribute to changes in global climate patterns. Global warming can occur from many causes, both natural and human induced.

Global Warming Potential (GWP)

Defined as the cumulative radiative forcing effects of a gas over a specified time horizon resulting from the emission of a unit mass of gas relative to a reference gas. The GWP-weighted emissions of direct green

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)

Compounds containing hydrogen, fluorine, chlorine, and carbon atoms. Although ozone-depleting substances, they are less potent at destroying stratospheric ozone than chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). They have been introduced as temporary replacements for CFCs and are also greenhouse gases.

Hydrologic Cycle

The process of evaporation, vertical and horizontal transport of vapor, condensation, precipitation, and the flow of water from continents to oceans. It is a major factor in determining climate through its influence on surface vegetation, the clouds, snow and ice, and soil moisture. The hydrologic cycle is responsible for 25 to 30 percent of the midlatitudes' heat transport from the equatorial to polar regions.


The component of the climate system comprising liquid surface and subterranean water, such as oceans, seas, rivers, freshwater lakes, underground water.

Ice Core

A cylindrical section of ice removed from a glacier or an ice sheet in order to study climate patterns of the past. By performing chemical analyses on the air trapped in the ice, scientists can estimate the percentage of carbon dioxide and other trace gases in the atmosphere at a given time.

Longwave Radiation

The radiation emitted in the spectral wavelength greater than 4 micrometers corresponding to the radiation emitted from the Earth and atmosphere.

Methane (CH4)

A hydrocarbon that is a greenhouse gas with a global warming potential most recently estimated at 23 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2). Methane is produced through anaerobic (without oxygen) decomposition of waste in landfills, animal digestion, decomposition of animal wastes, production and distribution of natural gas and petroleum, coal production, and incomplete fossil fuel combustion.

Metric Ton

Common international measurement for the quantity of greenhouse gas emissions. A metric ton is equal to 2,205 lbs. or 1.1 short tons.

Infrared Radiation

Radiation emitted by the Earth's surface, the atmosphere and the clouds. It is also known as terrestrial or longwave radiation. Infrared radiation has a distinctive range of wavelengths longer than the wavelength of the red color in the visible part of the spectrum.

Mount Pinatubo

An active volcano located in the Philippine Islands that erupted in 1991. The eruption of Mount Pina-tubo ejected enough particulate and sulfate aerosol matter into the upper atmosphere to block some of the incoming solar radiation from reaching Earth's atmosphere.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)

The IPCC was established jointly by the United Nations Environment Program and the World Meteorological Organization in 1988. The purpose of the IPCC is to assess information in the scientific and technical literature related to all significant components of the issue of climate change. With its capacity for reporting on climate change, its consequences, and the viability of adaptation and mitigation measures, the IPCC is also looked to as the official advisory body to the world's governments on the state of the science of the climate change issue.


Land waste disposal site in which waste is generally spread in thin layers, compacted, and covered with a fresh layer of soil each day.

Natural Gas

Underground deposits of gases consisting of 50 to 90 percent methane (CH4) and small amounts of heavier gaseous hydrocarbon compounds such as propane (C3H8) and butane (C4H10).

Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)

Gases consisting of one molecule of nitrogen and varying numbers of oxygen molecules. Nitrogen oxides are produced in the emissions of vehicle exhausts and from power stations. In the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides can contribute to formation of smog, can impair visibility, and have health consequences.

Nitrous Oxide (N2O)

A powerful greenhouse gas with a global warming potential of 296 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2). Major sources of nitrous oxide include soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.


To chemically transform a substance by combining it with oxygen.

Ozone (O3)

Ozone, the triatomic form of oxygen (O3), is a gaseous atmospheric constituent. In the troposphere, it is created both naturally and by photochemical reactions involving gases resulting from human activities (photochemical smog). In high concentrations, tropospheric ozone can be harmful to a wide range of living organisms. Tropospheric ozone acts as a greenhouse gas. In the stratosphere, ozone is created by the interaction between solar ultraviolet radiation and molecular oxygen (O2). Stratospheric ozone plays a decisive role in the stratospheric radiative balance. Depletion of stratospheric ozone, due to chemical reactions that may be enhanced by climate change, results in an increased ground-level flux of ultraviolet (UV-) B radiation.

Ozone-Depleting Substance (ODS)

A family of man-made compounds that includes chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), bromofluorocarbons (halons), methyl chloroform, carbon tetrachloride, methyl bromide, and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These compounds have been shown to deplete stratospheric ozone, and therefore are typically referred to as ODSs.

Ozone Layer

The layer of ozone that begins approximately 9 mi. (15 km.) above Earth and thins to an almost negligible amount at about 31 mi. (50 km.), shields the Earth from harmful ultraviolet radiation from the Sun.

Ozone Precursors

Chemical compounds, such as carbon monoxide, methane, nonmethane hydrocarbons, and nitrogen oxides, which in the presence of solar radiation react with other chemical compounds to form ozone, mainly in the troposphere.

Particulate Matter (PM)

Very small pieces of solid or liquid matter such as particles of soot, dust, fumes, mists, or aerosols.

Parts per Billion (ppb)

Number of parts of a chemical found in one billion parts of a particular gas, liquid, or solid mixture.

Parts per Million (ppm)

Number of parts of a chemical found in one million parts of a particular gas, liquid, or solid.

Perfluorocarbons (PFCs)

A group of human-made chemicals composed of carbon and fluorine only. These chemicals were introduced as alternatives, along with hydrofluorocarbons, to the ozone-depleting substances.


The process by which plants take CO2 from the air (or bicarbonate in water) to build carbohydrates, releasing O2 in the process. There are several pathways of photosynthesis with different responses to atmospheric CO2 concentrations.


The comparatively slow torquing of the orbital planes of all satellites with respect to the Earth's axis, due to the bulge of the Earth at the equator which distorts the Earth's gravitational field.


Energy transfer in the form of electromagnetic waves or particles that release energy when absorbed by an object.

Radiative Forcing

Radiative forcing is the change in the net vertical irra-diance (expressed in Watts per square meter: Wm-2) at the tropopause due to an internal change or a change in the external forcing of the climate system, such as, for example, a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide or the output of the Sun.


Collecting and reprocessing a resource so it can be used again. An example is collecting aluminum cans, melting them down, and using the aluminum to make new cans or other aluminum products.


Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use.

Residence Time

The average time spent in a reservoir by an individual atom or molecule. With respect to greenhouse gases, residence time usually refers to how long a particular molecule remains in the atmosphere.


The biological process whereby living organisms convert organic matter to CO2, releasing energy and consuming O2.

Short Ton

Common measurement for a ton in the United States. A short ton is equal to 2,000 lbs. or 0.907 metric tons.

Depending upon latitude and season, the temperature in the lower stratosphere can increase, be isothermal, or even decrease with altitude, but the temperature in the upper stratosphere generally increases with height due to absorption of solar radiation by ozone.


The volume of water that moves over a designated point over a fixed period of time. It is often expressed as cubic feet per second (ft3/sec).

Sulfate Aerosols

Particulate matter that consists of compounds of sulfur formed by the interaction of sulfur dioxide and sulfur trioxide with other compounds in the atmosphere. Sulfate aerosols are injected into the atmosphere from the combustion of fossil fuels and the eruption of volcanoes.

Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6)

A colorless gas soluble in alcohol and ether, slightly soluble in water. A very powerful greenhouse gas used primarily in electrical transmission and distribution systems and as a dielectric in electronics.


Any process, activity, or mechanism which removes a greenhouse gas, an aerosol, or a precursor of a greenhouse gas or aerosol from the atmosphere.

Soil Carbon

A major component of the terrestrial biosphere pool in the carbon cycle. The amount of carbon in the soil is a function of the historical vegetative cover and productivity, which in turn is dependent in part upon climatic variables.

Solar Radiation

Radiation emitted by the Sun. It is also referred to as shortwave radiation. Solar radiation has a distinctive range of wavelengths (spectrum) determined by the temperature of the Sun.


Region of the atmosphere between the troposphere and mesosphere, having a lower boundary of approximately 5 mi. (8 km.) at the poles to 9 mi. (15 km.) at the equator and an upper boundary of approximately 31 mi. (50 km.).

Thermohaline Circulation

Large-scale density-driven circulation in the ocean, caused by differences in temperature and salinity. In the North Atlantic the thermohaline circulation consists of warm surface water flowing northward and cold deep water flowing southward, resulting in a net poleward transport of heat.

Trace Gas

Any one of the less common gases found in the Earth's atmosphere. Nitrogen, oxygen, and argon make up more than 99 percent of the Earth's atmosphere. Other gases, such as carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, oxides of nitrogen, ozone, and ammonia, are considered trace gases.


The lowest part of the atmosphere from the surface to about 6 mi./10 km. in altitude in mid-latitudes (ranging from 5.5 mi. [9 km.] in high latitudes to 10 mi. [16 km.] in the tropics on average) where clouds and "weather" phenomena occur.

Ultraviolet Radiation (UV)

The energy range just beyond the violet end of the visible spectrum. Although ultraviolet radiation constitutes only about 5 percent of the total energy emitted from the sun, it is the major energy source for the stratosphere and mesosphere, playing a dominant role in both energy balance and chemical composition.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

The Convention on Climate Change sets an overall framework for intergovernmental efforts to tackle the challenge posed by climate change. It recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.


Water that has been used and contains dissolved or suspended waste materials.

Water Vapor

The most abundant greenhouse gas, it is the water present in the atmosphere in gaseous form. Water vapor is a part of the natural greenhouse effect.


Atmospheric condition at any given time or place. It is measured in terms of such things as wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation.

Fernando Herrera University of California, San Diego


Global Temperatures Recent Sea Level Rise Achieved Hurricane Intensity Under Idealized Conditions Annual Carbon Emissions by Region Ice Age Temperature Changes Sixty-Five Million Years of Climate Change Five Million Years of Climate Change From Sediment Cores Reconstructed Temperature, 2,000 Years Holocene Temperature Variations

Phanerozoic Climate Change Global Fossil Carbon Emissions Global Warming Predictions Global Warming Projections Economic Efficiency of Fossil Fuel Usage Fossil Fuel Usage per Person Global Trends in Greenhouse Gases Milankovitch Cycles

Graphic Plots and Text Prepared by

Robert A. Rohde University of California, Berkeley

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