Glossary Climate Change

glossary climate change -I have included this glossary of concepts and words to clarify that which may be misunderstood. The glossary is a work in progress and if you should come across anything on the site you think needs to be in here, please contact us.

Adaptive Capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences. Also see the page explaining the link between adaptation and mitigation.

Additionality The Kyoto Protocol articles on Joint Implementation (Art. 6) and the Clean Development Mechanism (Art. 12) state that emissions reduction units (ERUs and CERs) will be awarded to project-based activities provided that the projects achieve emissions reductions that are ‘additional to those that otherwise would occur.’

Agroecology is the science of sustainable agriculture; the methods of agroecology have as their goal achieving sustainability of agricultural systems balanced in all spheres. This includes the socio-economic and the ecological or environmental.


Albedo is defined as the ratio of the intensity of the outgoing radiation to the incident radiation. Put simply it is how much sunlight is reflected by surface material. For instance, albedos of typical materials in the visible light range are from up to 90% for fresh snow, to about 4% for charcoal, one of the darkest substances.

Algal Bloom is the explosive growth of blue green algae that deprives aquatic life of oxygen. Algal blooms can be toxic to animals and humans.

Anthropogenic Climate Change Anthropogenic means “human made”. So in the context of climate change it refers to greenhouse gases, or emissions that are produced as the result of human activities.

Argon –(Ar) constitutes 1.3 percent of the atmosphere by weight and 0.94 percent by volume. Argon is isolated on a large scale by the fractional distillation of liquid air. It is used in gas-filled electric light bulbs, radio tubes, and Geiger counters. It also is widely utilized as an inert atmosphere for arc-welding metals, such as aluminium and stainless steel; for the production and fabrication of metals, such as titanium, zirconium, and uranium; and for growing crystals of semiconductors, such as silicon and germanium.

Biomass The total dry organic matter or stored energy content of living organisms. Biomass can be used for fuel directly by burning it (e.g. wood), indirectly by fermentation to an alcohol (e.g. sugar) or extraction of combustible oils (e.g. soybeans).

Bioplastics Instead of petroleum, biorenewable materials such as starch from corn or whey from cheese-making can be used to make plastics. Industry uses microbes or their enzymes to convert biomass to feedstocks, building blocks for biodegradable plastics, industrial solvents and specialty lubricants.

Carbon Dioxide is a chemical compound composed of one carbon and two oxygen atoms. It is often referred to by its formula CO2. It is present in the Earth’s atmosphere at a low concentration and acts as a greenhouse gas. In its solid state, it is called dry ice. It is a major component of the carbon cycle. As of March 2006 CO2 levels now stand at 381 parts per million (ppm) — 100ppm above the pre-industrial average.

Carbon Sink is the natural or human activity or mechanism that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, such as the absorption of carbon dioxide by growing trees.

Climate Change the change in average conditions of the atmosphere near the earth’s surface over a long period of time, taking into account temperature, precipitation, humidity, wind, barometric pressure, and other phenomena.

Contrails are the white line-clouds often visible behind aircraft.

Coriolis Effect is caused by the rotation of the Earth (not curvature) and is responsible for the direction of rotation of cyclones. In general, the effect deflects objects moving along the surface of the Earth to the right in the Northern hemisphere and to the left in the Southern hemisphere. As a consequence, winds around the center of a cyclone rotate counterclockwise on the northern hemisphere and clockwise on the southern hemisphere. However, contrary to popular belief, the Coriolis effect is not a determining factor in the rotation of water in toilets or bathtubs!

Critical Threshold The point at which activity faces an unacceptable level of harm, such a change from profit to loss on a farm due to decreased water availability, or coastal flooding exceeding present planning limits. It ocurrs when a threshold is reached at which ecological or socioeconomic change is damaging and requires a policy response.

Desertification The progressive destruction or degradation of vegetative cover, especially in arid or semi-arid regions bordering existing deserts. Overgrazing of rangelands, large-scale cutting of forests and woodlands, drought, burning of extensive areas and climate changes all serve to destroy or degrade the vegetation cover.

El Niño translates from Spanish as ‘the boy-child’. Peruvian fisherman originally used the term referring to the Christ as a child. This was used to describe the appearance, around Christmas, of a warm ocean current off the South American coast. Today, the term El Niño refers to the extensive warming of the central and eastern Pacific that leads to a major shift in weather patterns across the Pacific. In Australia, and more so for eastern Australia, El Niño events are associated with an increased probability of drier conditions.

Evaporation is the process by which a liquid becomes a gas.

Extratropical cyclones, sometimes called mid-latitude cyclones, are a group of cyclones defined as synoptic scale low pressure weather systems that occur in the middle latitudes of the Earth having neither tropical nor polar characteristics.


Forcing or radiative forcing, is a measure of how internal or external factors affect climate. Internal forcing is part of the natural chaos of the climate system, for example ENSO. External forcing may be natural (e.g. volcanic eruptions or solar fluctuations) or anthropogenic (e.g. increasing greenhouse gases or aerosols). External forcing can change the Earth’s energy balance, and hence its climate patterns.

Global Warming An increase in the average temperature of the earth’s atmosphere, especially a sustained increase sufficient to cause climatic change.

Global Warming Potential (GWP) This value is used to compare the abilities of different greenhouse gases to trap heat in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse Effect Natural and anthropogenic gases in the atmosphere that absorb and emit infrared or heat radiation, causing the greehouse effect.

Helium – (He) A light inert gas and the second most abundant element in the universe.

Hydrogen – (H) At standard temperature and pressure it is a colorless, odorless, nonmetallic, univalent, tasteless, highly flammable diatomic gas. Having been used as an ingredient in some rocket fuels for several decades, hydrogen, or more specifically H2, is now widely discussed in the context of energy. Hydrogen is not an energy source, since it is not an abundant natural resource and more energy is used to produce it than can be ultimately extracted from it.

Methane – The simplest hydrocarbon, methane, is a gas (at standard temperature and pressure) with a chemical formula of CH 4. However, when averaged over 100 years each kg of CH4 warms the earth 23 times as much as the same mass of CO2.

Mitigation – in the context of climate change is any action taken to permanently eliminate or reduce the long-term risk to human life, property, and function from the hazards of climate change. Also see the page explaining the relationship between adaptation and mitigation.

Moulin – A narrow, tubular chute, hole or crevasse worn in the ice by surface water, which carries water from the surface to the base far below. See the page on Moulin

Neon –(Ne) A colorless, nearly inert noble gas, neon gives a distinct reddish glow when used in vacuum discharge tubes and neon lamps and is found in air in trace amounts.

Nitrouus Oxide – Unlike the other Nitrogen oxides, nitrous oxide is a major greenhouse gas; per unit of weight, nitrous oxide has 296 times the effect of (CO2) for producing global warming. Nitrous oxide, is a chemical compound with chemical formula N2O. It is used in surgery and dentistry for its anaesthetic and analgesic effects, where it is commonly known as laughing gas due to the euphoric effects of inhaling it.

Ozone – About 90% of the ozone in our atmosphere is contained in the stratosphere, the region from about 10 to 50 km (32,000 to 164,000 feet) above Earth’s surface. Although the concentration of ozone in the ozone layer is very small, it is vitally important to life because it absorbs biologically harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation emitted from the Sun. Some breakdown of the Ozone layer can be expected to continue due to CFCs used by nations which have not banned them, and due to gases which are already in the stratosphere. CFCs have very long atmospheric lifetimes, ranging from 50 to over 100 years, so the final recovery of the ozone layer is expected to require several lifetimes.

Parabolic – A plane curve formed by the intersection of a right circular cone and a plane parallel to an element of the cone or by the locus of points equidistant from a fixed line and a fixed point not on the line. What’s that? A bowl shaped trough that focuses sunlight into a narrow beam. The bowl reflects the incoming rays of the sun to a receiving element at the centre of the bowl or trough.

Precautionary Principle The UNFCCC (Article 3.3) states: Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures taking into account that policies and measures to deal with climate change should be cost-effective so as to ensure global benefits at the lowest possible cost.

Threshold Any level of a property of a natural socioeconomic system beyond which a defined or marked change occurs. Gradual climate change may force a system beyond such a threshold. (see critical threshold)

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity, and its adaptive capacity.


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