Climate Change Glossary
The ability of communities, humans, plants, and animals to 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.
A measurement of the amount of sunlight an object or surface reflects back into space. Things that absorb light have lower albedo measurements 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. The atmosphere is made up of a number of chemical elements, but is mainly made out of nitrogen and oxygen. It 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.
Relating to biology and living beings.
Materials that come from a biological source, including organic matter (living and dead) from above and below ground. For example: trees, tree litter, crops, grasses and plants, roots, animals, and 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.
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 use carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to grow, converting it to biomass. Carbon can then move from plants to animals (through the food chain), and to soils (as plants and animals die and decay), and back to the atmosphere as animals breathe (exhaling carbon dioxide) or fossil fuels (which are ancient remains of biomass) are burned.
A gas that is released into the atmosphere through breathing, as well as the burning of fossil fuels and biomass, and through industrial processes. It is the main greenhouse gas released by human activity.
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.
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 are rising sea levels and changes in precipitation patterns. As humans continue to burn fossil fuels and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, climate change will continue to occur at rates much faster than natural, historical norms.
A mathematical way to represent the interactions of atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice to depict current and changing climates.
The capacity to prepare, adapt, reorganize, and evolve to cope with the effects of climate change.
The amount of a chemical in a particular amount of air, water, soil, or other medium. Concentration is often expressed as parts per million (ppm), parts per billion (ppb) or parts per trillion (ppt). To visualize, if you had a field of 1 million caribou and in came one wolf, the wolf would represent 1 part per million of animals in the area.
Actions that destroy forests. Deforestation drives climate change in two ways: (1) the removed trees are burned or decomposed, which releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and (2) the trees that once removed carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to grow are no longer there to do that.
Abnormally dry weather with minimal to no precipitation that lasts long enough to cause water shortages.
Living and non-living parts interacting in an environment to create a stable system through which materials are cycled. 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.
When soil, rock, or other material is picked up and moved to another place by ice, water, wind, or gravity. Eroded materials can be moved only a few millimeters or transported thousands of kilometers away.
The process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor. In general, warmer temperatures cause more evaporation.
Strong and unusual weather events such as heat waves, cold waves, heavy rains, drought, flooding, and severe storms. Climate change is expected to 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.
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.
The gradual increase in the overall temperature of the Earth due to increased levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere.
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.
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.
Species of living things that are not normally found there that negatively affect the balance of the area.
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 their contribution to global warming. This includes reducing greenhouse gas emissions and removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
Underground stores of hydrocarbon gas, consisting mainly of methane, commonly used for heating, cooking, and energy creation. Natural gas is a fossil fuel and, as such, it releases greenhouse gases when burned.
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.
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 is predicted to decrease as a result of climate change, which will result in stronger and more intense ultraviolet light at the planet’s surface.
Very small pieces of solid or liquid matter such as particles of soot, dust, fumes, mists or aerosols. Particulate matter can be a part of air pollution.
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 that fuel their growth. The waste product of this process is oxygen, which the plant then releases 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.
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.
The seasonal accumulation of snow over the winter. Snowpack typically melts in the spring and summer.
The layering of water by temperature and density in lakes and other bodies of water. Stratification usually changes with the season.
The point at which, once passed, a sudden or rapid change occurs.
A threshold for change, which, when reached, is difficult to reverse.
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. 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 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 as is 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.