Climate Change Glossary
The ability of communities, human and non-human, to prepare for and adjust to a changing environment either by taking advantage of opportunities and resources or by reducing harm. This includes steps taken to cope with the effects of climate change.
Small pieces of dust or liquid droplets in the air that may be able to either absorb or reflect light from the sun. Aerosols that absorb light have a warming effect on the planet, while aerosols that reflect light have a cooling effect on the planet, which can hide the effects of global warming. Aerosols can be made by humans or by natural Earth processes like volcano eruptions. Aerosols are also important in forming clouds, fog, rain, and snow.
A measurement of the amount of sunlight an object or surface reflects back into space. Things that absorb light have lower albedo number and things that reflect light have have higher albedo measurements.
Describes something made by people or that is the result of human activity. For example, anthropogenic climate change means human-made climate change.
The gases that surround the Earth’s surface and extend out into space. It is made up of a number of chemical elements, but is mainly made out of nitrogen and oxygen. The atmosphere is where clouds and weather effects form.
The amount of time something typically stays in the atmosphere for before it is removed or breaks down. The atmospheric lifetime of greenhouse gases range from a few years to thousands of years.
The various forms of life in an area including the number of unique plants and animals, as well as their habitats and traits.
Fuel made from raw biological material, which is called biomass. Biofuels can be made out of crops, wood, peat, waste, landfill gases, and more.
The movement of chemical elements like carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and phosphorous throughout the planet, through both living and non-living beings, for example from the air to the land to the sea to fish to humans.
Relating to biology and living beings.
Biological materials such as living and dead trees, crops, grasses, animals, as well as animal waste.
All ecosystems and living beings in the air, on the land, and in the water, as well as their dead bodies and wastes. The biosphere refers to all life on the planet.
Black Carbon Aerosol
The most light-absorbing aerosol formed improperly burning fossil fuels, biofuels, and biomass.
The cycle of carbon through the atmosphere, the land, the oceans, and living beings. Carbon cycles in different forms through these places through chemical, physical, geological, and biological processes. A predominant cycle starts when plants convert carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to biomass and is then returned to the atmosphere through being eaten by other organisms and breathed back out into the air, as organisms die and decay, and through the burning of fossil fuels.
A gas that is released into the atmosphere through breathing, as well as the burning of fossil fuels and biomass and industrial processes. It is the main greenhouse gas released by human activity.
Carbon Dioxide Equivalent
Since burning the non-carbon dioxide fossils fuels contribute to climate change to varying degrees, it is helpful for scientists to look at the effects of these fossils fuels in terms of the effects of carbon dioxide.
The amount of greenhouses gasses that are emitted every year by a person, family, building, organization, or company. This includes both the greenhouse gasses that they produce themselves, as well as any greenhouse gasses that were produced in order to accommodate their livelihoods and lifestyles, for example, a factory that makes the products that they buy or the fossil fuels used to transport the food that they eat.
An activity or process that doesn’t release extra carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. For example, growing plant biomass to make biofuels takes carbon out of the atmosphere, and burning that biofuel releases the same amount of carbon dioxide back into the atmosphere.
Actions and things that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The largest carbon sinks on the planet are the oceans and forests.
A tax on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide.
Relating to chemistry and chemicals.
Climate is the average weather a place experiences over a long period of time. This includes average temperature, precipitation, wind speed and direction, and more.
Climate change is a change to climate measurements over a period of time. Climate change is caused by both natural processes and human activity. Global warming is one effect of climate change, as is rising sea levels. As humans continue to burn fossil fuels and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, fast and sudden climate change occurs.
A mathematical way to represent the interactions of atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice to depict current and changing climates.
A displaced person who lost their home by environmental disasters caused by climate change.
The capacity to prepare, adapt, reorganize, and evolve to cope with the effects of climate change that they face.
The five components that are responsible for the climate. They are atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere.
The amount of a chemical in a particular amount of air, water, soil, or other medium. See parts per billion, parts per million, parts per trillion.
The process in which a colony of ocean coral, under environmental stress, expels the algae that live in with their host polyps. The affected coral colony appears whitened.
The frozen water on the planet in the form of snow, permafrost, floating and land ice, and glaciers. A changing cryosphere directly affects sea levels.
Actions that destroy forests. Deforestation drives climate change in two ways. The removed trees are burned or decomposed, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As well, the trees that once removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow are no longer there to do that.
Diurnal Temperature Range
The difference between maximum and minimum temperature over a day.
A serious disruption of a community unable to cope with the loss of lives, health, materials, homes, economy, services, environments, and more, as a result of this disruption.
Abnormally dry weather with minimal to no precipitation that lasts long enough to cause water shortages.
The extent to which the Earth's orbit around the Sun forms an imperfect circle, or ellipses.
Living and non-living parts interacting in an environment to create a stable system through which materials are cycled through the various components. All living beings in an area as well as the air, land, and water that they interact with.
The release of a substance, typically a gas, into the atmosphere.
Using less energy to do the same task or provide the same service.
The difference between the energy that enters and leaves the planet. If more energy enters than leaves, warming happens. If less energy enters than leaves, cooling happens. When the energy that enters and leaves is the same, then the planet remains at the same temperature.
Livestock, especially cattle, produce methane as part of their digestion. This process is called enteric fermentation, and it represents one third of the emissions from the agriculture sector.
The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people in the decision making processes related to climate change, regardless of race, colour, gender, and class.
The removal of soil and rock by weathering and the movement of ice, water, and wind.
The process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor.
A strong and unexpected weather event such as heat waves, cold waves, heavy rains, drought, flooding, and severe storms. Climate change will increase the frequency of extreme weather events.
Factors that amplify (positive feedback) or decrease (negative feedback) the rate of a process from which these factors result. In the context of global warming, a positive feedback loop would be an event that contributes to global warming, becomes stronger or more frequent as a result of a warming planet, which in turn warms the planet further.
The certain access to food for an individual or group in order meet their needs and live a healthy life. Food security is when you do not have to worry about where your next meal is coming from or if global warming will make your food harder to get.
An energy source that originates from ancient decayed plant and animal biomass that has been converted into oil, coal, and natural gas due to the heat and pressure of being deep underground over millions of years. Fossils fuels release carbon dioxide when they are burnt.
Relating to the Earth’s physical structure and substances.
The soils, sediments, and rock layers of the Earth's crust, both continental and beneath the ocean floors.
The accumulation of snowfall over many years. Glaciers are found on every continent except Australia. Glaciers move over time as a result of gravity. Glacier ice is the largest reservoir of fresh water on the planet.
Global Average Temperature
An estimate of Earth's mean surface air temperature averaged over the entire planet.
See: Climate Change
The insulating process through which heat is trapped in the troposphere layer of the atmosphere. As heat from the sun bounces off of the planet, some of it is trapped by a blanket of greenhouse gases that warm the planet’s surface. The more greenhouse gases that are added to this blanket, the warmer the planet will be.
Greenhouse Gas (GHG)
Gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, water vapour, and ozone that trap heat in the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases form both naturally and as a result of human industrial processes. As the concentration of these gases increase in the atmosphere, the blanket of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere will trap more and more heat, warming the planet.
The negative health impacts, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion, caused by exposure to extreme heat or long periods in hot environments.
A prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity. A period of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks.
Substances containing only hydrogen and carbon. Fossil fuels are made up of hydrocarbons.
The cycle of water between the surface of the planet and the air. Surface water evaporates, condenses in the atmosphere, precipitates back down to the surface, and is collected in bodies of water such as lakes and the oceans. The hydrologic cycle is important for establishing the climate of an area.
The liquid water found on the surface of the planet and underground. This includes oceans, rivers, lakes, underground water, etc.
A sample of ice removed from a glacier or ice sheet. By looking at the chemicals trapped in air bubbles in these sections of ice, scientists can determine how much carbon dioxide was in the atmosphere in the past. This carbon dioxide data allows scientists to estimate the temperature of the past as well.
The submergence of land by water, particularly in a coastal setting.
Species of living things that are not normally found there that negatively affect the balance of the area.
Places of waste disposal where waste is spread out in a layer, pressed down, and covered with soil every day.
The rigid, rocky outer layer of the Earth, consisting of the crust and the solid outermost layer found directly underneath the crust.
Changes that make something more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.
The greenhouse gas that is 25 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Methane is produced by wetlands, landfill waste, animal digestion, the production and distribution of natural gas, coal, and oil, and the improper burning of fossil fuels.
Actions taken by humans to reduce the amount to which they are contributing to global warming. This includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Underground stores of methane and other greenhouse gases.
The cycling of nitrogen between the atmosphere, plants, animals, and the soil and water.
Nitrogen Oxides (NOx)
Greenhouse gases containing nitrogen and oxygen. Nitrogen oxides are found in the emissions from vehicles and from power stations. In the atmosphere, nitrogen oxides can contribute to formation of smog by creating ozone.
Nitrous Oxide (N2O)
A powerful greenhouse gas that is 298 times stronger than carbon dioxide. Major sources of nitrous oxide include the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, the burning of fossil fuels and biomass.
Chemical elements like nitrogen and phosphorus, which plants and animals need to live and grow. At high concentrations, particularly in water, nutrients can become pollutants.
When the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the air, it makes the water more acidic. An acidic ocean is damaging to corals, mollusks, algae and crustaceans by making it harder for them to develop shells and protective features.
Ozone is a greenhouse gas found in the atmosphere. It is created in the troposphere by chemical reactions that occur when certain gases absorb ultraviolet light from the sun. A lot of ozone in lower layers of the atmosphere can be harmful to living beings. However, ozone in the higher layers of the atmosphere protect us from harsh light from the sun. The amount of ozone in the atmosphere will decrease as a result of climate change, which will result in stronger and more intense ultraviolet light at the planet’s surface.
Small dust or liquid droplets such as soot, fumes, mists or aerosols.
Parts Per Billion (ppb)
A measurement of concentration. The number of parts of a chemical found in one billion parts of a gas, liquid, or solid mixture.
Parts Per Million by Volume (ppmv)
A measurement of concentration. The number of parts of a chemical found in one million parts of a gas, liquid, or solid. In order to avoid dangerous climate change, greenhouse gas levels should not exceed 450 ppm carbon dioxide equivalents. Current levels are at 405 ppm.
Parts Per Trillion (ppt)
A measurement of concentration. The number of parts of a chemical found in one trillion parts of a gas, liquid or solid.
Microscopic bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites that causes disease in living beings.
Permanently frozen ground that forms where the temperature remains at or below 0°C for several years.
The process through which plants take carbon dioxide from the air to build sugars and release oxygen into the atmosphere.
The wobble over thousands of years of the tilt of the Earths axis with respect to the plane of the solar system.
Actions taken to prevent, protect against, and lessen negative effects.
The ability of a surface to reflect sunlight.
Planting forests on lands that have previously contained forests but no longer do.
Energy resources that naturally replenish themselves. This includes biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and hydro.
The capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant threats and events with as little negative effects as possible.
The process in which living beings create energy in their bodies, releasing carbon dioxide and consuming oxygen - for humans this is breathing in and out.
Threats to life, health and safety, the environment, and other things of value. Risks are often evaluated by how likely they are to occur and the consequences if the threat did happen.
Sea Surface Temperature
The temperature of the top layer of ocean water is measured by ships, buoys and drifters.
A process, activity or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas or aerosol from the atmosphere.
The seasonal accumulation of snow over the winter. Snowpack typically melts in the spring and summer.
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.
The layering of water by temperature and density in lakes and other bodies of water. Stratification usually changes with the season.
The layer of the atmosphere directly above the troposphere. This is the layer where ozone protects the planet’s surface from harmful ultraviolet light.
The downward movement of the Earth's crust in a particular area.
The point at which, once passed, a sudden or rapid change occurs.
A threshold for change, which, when reached, is difficult to reverse.
The lowest layer of the atmosphere where clouds and weather occur.
Treeless plains of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that have low temperatures and short growing seasons.
Energy from the sun that is blocked by the ozone layer in the atmosphere. The ultraviolet light that does reach the surface of the planet helps plant photosynthesis and the production of vitamin D in living beings. However, too much ultraviolet radiation can burn the skin, cause skin cancer and cataracts, and damage plants.
The degree to which the climate in the future is unknown. The parts about the climate in the future that we cannot predict with current science. Uncertainty is a result of the complexity of the climate, as well as the inability to predict the decisions and actions that society will make as a result of climate change. Uncertainty can also describe not knowing the ways climate change will affect people and natural systems.
The process of verifying accuracy in a scientific study. For example, using measurements of temperature or precipitation to determine the accuracy of climate model results.
The degree to which physical, biological, and socio-economic systems are susceptible to and unable to cope with the negative effects of climate change. Vulnerability is influenced by both the climate that they are experiencing as well as their adaptability to these changes.
The reliable access to as much fresh, clean water needed to sustain health, livelihoods, and the environment.
The most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere is water in its gas form. As the planet warms due to climate change, the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere will increase due to positive feedback where warmer temperatures causes more water to evaporate. When there is excess water vapour in the sky clouds form, which also affects the planet’s temperature.
Weather is the day to day conditions that a place experiences like wind, temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, cloudiness, and precipitation. Weather typically changes over time and from season to season. Climate is the average weather an area experiences over a long period of time. Climate is what you expect and weather is what you experience.