A

 

Adaptation

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.

 

Aerosols

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.

 

Albedo

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.

 

Anthropogenic

Describes something made by people or that is the result of human activity. For example, anthropogenic climate change means human-made climate change.

 

Atmosphere 

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.

 

Atmospheric Lifetime 

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.


B

 

Biodiversity

The various forms of life in an area including the number of unique plants and animals, as well as their habitats and traits.

 

Biofuels 

Fuel made from raw biological material, which is called biomass. Biofuels can be made out of crops, wood, peat, waste, landfill gases, and more.

 

Biogeochemical Cycle

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.

 

Biological 

Relating to biology and living beings.

 

Biomass 

Biological materials such as living and dead trees, crops, grasses, animals, as well as animal waste.

 

Biosphere

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.


C

 

Carbon Cycle 

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.

 

Carbon Dioxide

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.

 

Carbon Footprint 

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.

 

Carbon neutral 

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.

 

Carbon sink 

Actions and things that remove carbon from the atmosphere. The largest carbon sinks on the planet are the oceans and forests.

 

Carbon tax 

A tax on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide.

 

Chemical

Relating to chemistry and chemicals.

 

Climate

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 

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.

 

Climate Model 

A mathematical way to represent the interactions of atmosphere, oceans, land surface, and ice to depict current and changing climates.

 

Climate Refugee

A displaced person who lost their home by environmental disasters caused by climate change.

 

Climate Resilience 

The capacity to prepare, adapt, reorganize, and evolve to cope with the effects of climate change that they face.

 

Climate/Earth System

The five components that are responsible for the climate. They are atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere.

 

Concentration 

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.

 

Coral Bleaching

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.

 

Cryosphere 

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.


D

 

Deforestation 

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.

 

Disaster

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.

 

Drought

Abnormally dry weather with minimal to no precipitation that lasts long enough to cause water shortages.


E

 

Eccentricity 

The extent to which the Earth's orbit around the Sun forms an imperfect circle, or ellipses.

 

Ecosystem 

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.

 

Emissions

The release of a substance, typically a gas, into the atmosphere.

 

Energy Efficiency 

Using less energy to do the same task or provide the same service. 

 

Energy Balance

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.

 

Enteric Fermentation 

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.

 

Environmental Justice

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.

 

Erosion

The removal of soil and rock by weathering and the movement of ice, water, and wind.

 

Evaporation 

The process by which water changes from a liquid to a gas or vapor. 

 

Extreme events

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.


F

 

Feedback Mechanisms

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.

 

Food security

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.

 

Fossil Fuel 

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.


G

 

Geological

Relating to the Earth’s physical structure and substances.

 

Geosphere 

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

 

Glacier 

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.

 

Global Warming

See: Climate Change

 

Greenhouse Effect 

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.


H

 

Heat Stress

The negative health impacts, such as heat stroke or heat exhaustion, caused by exposure to extreme heat or long periods in hot environments.

 

Heat Waves 

A prolonged period of excessive heat, often combined with excessive humidity. A period of abnormally hot weather lasting days to weeks.

 

Hydrocarbons 

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

 

Hydrologic/Water Cycle 

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.

 

Hydrosphere

The liquid water found on the surface of the planet and underground. This includes oceans, rivers, lakes, underground water, etc.


I

 

Ice Core 

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.

 

Inundation 

The submergence of land by water, particularly in a coastal setting.

 

Invasive Species

Species of living things that are not normally found there that negatively affect the balance of the area.


L

 

Landfill 

Places of waste disposal where waste is spread out in a layer, pressed down, and covered with soil every day.

 

Lithosphere

The rigid, rocky outer layer of the Earth, consisting of the crust and the solid outermost layer found directly underneath the crust.


M

 

Maladaptation

Changes that make something more vulnerable to the negative effects of climate change.

 

Methane

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.

 

Mitigation

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.


N

 

Natural Gas 

Underground stores of methane and other greenhouse gases.

 

Nitrogen Cycle 

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.

 

Nutrients

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.


O

 

Ocean Acidification

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

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.


P

 

Particulate matter

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.

 

Pathogen

Microscopic bacteria, fungi, viruses, and parasites that causes disease in living beings.

 

Permafrost

Permanently frozen ground that forms where the temperature remains at or below 0°C for several years.

 

Photosynthesis 

The process through which plants take carbon dioxide from the air to build sugars and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

.

 

Precession 

The wobble over thousands of years of the tilt of the Earths axis with respect to the plane of the solar system.

 

Preparedness

Actions taken to prevent, protect against, and lessen negative effects.


R

 

Reflectivity

The ability of a surface to reflect sunlight.

 

Reforestation

Planting forests on lands that have previously contained forests but no longer do.

 

Renewable Energy

Energy resources that naturally replenish themselves. This includes biomass, geothermal, solar, wind, and hydro.

 

Resilience

The capability to anticipate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from significant threats and events with as little negative effects as possible.

 

Respiration

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.

 

Risk

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.


s

 

Sea Surface Temperature 

The temperature of the top layer of ocean water is measured by ships, buoys and drifters.

 

Sink 

A process, activity or mechanism that removes a greenhouse gas or aerosol from the atmosphere.

 

Snowpack 

The seasonal accumulation of snow over the winter. Snowpack typically melts in the spring and summer.

 
 

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. 

 

Stratification

The layering of water by temperature and density in lakes and other bodies of water. Stratification usually changes with the season.

 

Stratosphere 

The layer of the atmosphere directly above the troposphere. This is the layer where ozone protects the planet’s surface from harmful ultraviolet light.

 

Subsidence 

The downward movement of the Earth's crust in a particular area. 


T

 

Threshold

The point at which, once passed, a sudden or rapid change occurs.

 

Tipping point 

A threshold for change, which, when reached, is difficult to reverse.

 

Troposphere 

The lowest layer of the atmosphere where clouds and weather occur.

 

Tundra 

Treeless plains of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions that have low temperatures and short growing seasons.


U

 

Ultraviolet Radiation

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.

 

Uncertainty

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.

 

V

 

Validate

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.

 

Vulnerability 

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.

 

W

 

Water security

The reliable access to as much fresh, clean water needed to sustain health, livelihoods, and the environment.

 

Water Vapour 

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 

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.