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NYO - Glossary of environmental terms
Category: Meteorology and astronomy > Glossary of environmental terms
Date & country: 16/11/2010, US
Words: 147

Acid rain
When strong acids fall from the atmosphere in the form of rain, snow, fog or dry particles. The acid is the result of pollution caused mostly by sulphur oxides and nitrogen oxides that are discharged into the atmosphere by industry. It also is created by burning coal and oil, from the operation of smelting industries and from transportation. In the atmosphere, these gases combine with water vapour...

Planting trees where there were none before.

The integration of tree growing with crop and livestock production. Agroforestry offers a way of tackling the combined problems of wood storages, poor agricultural production and environmental degradation.

Rootless plants that grow in sunlit waters in relative proportion to the amounts of nutrients available. They can affect water quality adversely by lowering the dissolved oxygen in the water. They are food for fish and small aquatic animals. However, when algae exists in excess, it takes away oxygen from the water, thus killing all life.

Algae blooms
The rapid growth of algae on the surface of lakes, streams, or ponds; stimulated by nutrient enrichment; an explosive increase in the density of phytoplankton within an area.

Human-induced or human-caused, derived from the Greek root anthropos meaning "man."

A porous, water-saturated layer of sediment and bedrock under the Earth's surface; also described as artesian (confined) or water table (unconfined).

Regions where precipitation is insufficient in quantity for most crops and where agriculture is impractical without irrigation.

The envelope of air surrounding the Earth. Most of the total mass of the atmosphere lies within the troposphere and the stratosphere. Most weather events are confined to the troposphere, the lower eight to 12 km of the atmosphere. The ozone layer is found in the stratosphere which typically extends from 10 to 40 km above the Earth.

Capable of being broken down by living organisms into inorganic compounds. Ideally all waste should be biodegradable.

Biological diversity (biodiversity)
The variety of different living organisms from all sources including terrestrial, marine and other aquatic ecosystems and the variety of different ecosystems that they form. This includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems, and the genetic variability of each species.

Biological resources
Includes genetic resources, organisms or parts thereof, populations, or any other biotic component of ecosystems with actual or potential use or value for humanity.

The total amount of living organisms in a given area.

The global ecosystem; that part of the earth and atmosphere capable of supporting living organisms.

Carbon dioxide
A colourless, odourless, non-poisonous gas, which results from fossil fuel combustion and is normally a part of the air.

Carbon tetrachloride
A solvent which is considered toxic and can cause cancer in humans. It is used primarily as a feedstock material for the production of other chemicals, including CFCs.

Damage to the eye lens, which impairs vision. It is often caused by UV-B radiation, which is usually filtered out by the ozone layer.


CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)
Any of the various compounds consisting of chlorine, hydrogen, fluorine, and carbon. They were first invented by DuPont Corporation in 1928 and have been widely used as refrigerants, as aerosol propellants, as cleaning solvents and in the manufacture of plastic foam. In 1972, scientists discovered that gaseous CFCs can deplete the ozone layer when they slowly rise into the stratosphere and their c...

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

The long term average condition of the weather in a given area.

Climate change
The slow variations of climatic characteristics over time at a given place. Usually refers to the change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is, in addition to natural climate variability, observed over comparable periods.

Climate system
The totality of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere and their interactions that characterize the average and extreme conditions of the atmosphere over a long period of time at any one place or region of the earth's surface.

The natural biological decomposition of organic material in the presence of aerobic bacteria to form a rich, dark soil fertilizer.

The long-term protection and sustainable management of natural resources in accordance with principles that ensure long-term economic and social benefits.

Any biological, chemical, physical or radiological substance that has an negative effect on air, soil or water.

An organochloride used as an insecticide. It has been banned since 1969 in most developed countries because it is a probable cause of cancer. However, it is still widely used in developing countries.

The felling of trees, usually for commercial purposes.

Land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities.

Developed World
Those countries that have industrialized through possessing the means and the technology to do so. Also referred to as the "North" or the "Industrialized World."

Developing World
Those countries that are underdeveloped and are not industrialized to the extent of the developed world. Characterized by high infant mortality rates, lack of proper sanitation, low literacy rates, poverty, etc. Most organizations, including the United Nations, estimate that 60 to 80 per cent of the world fits into this category. Also referred to as the "South", "Underdeveloped" or "Third Wor...

Any of a family of compounds known chemically as dibenzo-p-dioxins. Concern about them arises from their potential toxicity and contamination in commercial products.

A naturally-occurring phenomenon that occurs when precipitation is significantly below normal levels, causing water levels to drop and vegetation to die. This extended period of dry weather usually lasts longer than expected and leads to measurable losses for a human community (crop damage, water supply shortage).

Refers to the entire global ecosystem that comprises atmosphere, lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere as inseparable components.

A dynamic and complex system of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment all interacting as a functional unit within a defined physical location. The term may be applied to a unit as large as the entire ecosphere, but usually refers to a division thereof.

Environmental Education and Training Unit

Environmental Economics Unit

The discharge of industrial or urban waste material into the environment; the outflow from a lake or river.

Environmental Impact Assessment

Environmental Law and Institutions Unit

The release of greenhouse gases and/or their precursors into the atmosphere over a specified area and period of time.

Endangered species
A species threatened with extinction.

All of the external factors, conditions, and influences which affect an organism or a community. Also, everything that surrounds an organism or organisms, including both natural and human-built elements.

Environmentally Sound
That which does not harm the environment in any way.

The wearing away of land surface by wind, water, glaciers, chemicals, and exposure to the atmosphere. Erosion occurs naturally but can be intensified by land-clearing practices related to farming, residential or industrial development, road building or deforestation.

Over-enrichment of a water body with nutrients, resulting in excessive growth of organisms and depletion of oxygen concentration.

Extinct species
A species that no longer survives anywhere in the world.

(UN) Food and Agriculture Organization

Fossil fuels
Coal, oil, petroleum, and natural gas and other hydrocarbons are called fossil fuels because they are made of fossilized, carbon-rich plant and animal remains. These remains were buried in sediments and compressed over geologic time, slowly being converted to fuel.

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade

Global Environment Facility

Global Environment Monitoring System

Group of Experts on Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution

Global Warming
Strictly speaking, global warming and global cooling refer to the natural warming and cooling trends that the Earth has experienced all through its history. However, the term usually refers to the gradual rise in the Earth's temperatures that could result from the accumulated gases that are trapped in the atmosphere.

Greenhouse effect
A warming of the Earth's atmosphere caused by the presence in the atmosphere of certain heat-trapping gases (e.g., water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane). These gases absorb radiation emitted by the Earth, thereby retarding the loss of energy from the system to space. The greenhouse effect has been a property of Earth's atmosphere for millions of years and is responsible for maintaining the Eart...

Greenhouse gases
Those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and artificial, that absorb and reemit infrared radiation and that are responsible for global warming. The most potent greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, is rapidly accumulating in the atmosphere due to human activities.

Global Resource Information Database

Gross National Product (GNP)
The total market value of all the goods and services produced by a nation during a specific period of time.

The supply of fresh water found beneath the earth's surface (usually in aquifers) which is often accessed through wells and springs.

The geographical location(s) and the associated set(s) of environmental conditions that are necessary for the flourishing of a particular type of plant or animal. In other words, their home.

United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (UNCHS)

Chemical compounds developed from hydrocarbons by replacing atoms of hydrogen with atoms of halogens, such as fluorine, chlorine, or bromine. CFCs are halons (see above). Halons are widely used as fire extinguishing agents.

Hazardous waste
Refuse that could present dangers through the contamination and pollution of the environment. It requires special disposal techniques to make it harmless or less dangerous.

Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
Organic substances composed of hydrogen, chlorine, fluorine, and carbon atoms. These chemicals are less stable than CFCs, and are therefore less damaging to the ozone layer.Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)

Electric energy produced by water-powered turbine generators.

Hydrologic cycle
The cycle that water through its natural process of evaporation and precipitation

International Atomic Energy Agency

Industry and Environment Programme Activity Centre

International Environmental Education Programme

(UN) International Labour Organization

International Monetary Fund

(UN) International Maritime Organization

Industrial halocarbons
A group of synthetic chemical compounds containing carbon and one or more of chlorine, fluorine, or bromine. Only those industrial halocarbons containing chlorine or bromine pose a threat to the ozone layer.

Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution began in the early 1800's and heralded the birth of the "modern times." After the Industrial Revolution, work that was done by hand was accomplished through the use of machines. It brought on the advent of the steam engine, cotton gin, sewing machine, paper, telegraph, and railroad and it saw the beginnings of many of our present industries. While it occurred in the No...

Matter other than plant or animal, and not containing a combination of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which all living things contain.

Integrated resource planning
The management of two or more resources in the same general area, such as water, soil, timber, grazing land, fish, wildlife and recreation.

Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission

(UNEP) Information and Public affairs

International Register of Potentially Toxic Chemicals

The World Conservation Union

Land degradation
The reduction or loss of the biological or economic productivity from rainfed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest and woodlands. Land degradation usually results from unsustainable land use.

Monitoring and Assessment Research Centre

A group of atoms held together by chemical forces.

Natural resource
(e.g., tree biomass, fresh water, fish) whose supply can essentially never be exhausted, usually because it is continuously produced.

Non-Governmental Organization

Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)
An organization centred around a cause or causes that works outside the sphere of governments. NGOs often lobby governments in an attempt to influence policy.

Non-renewable resources
Natural resources that are not naturally replenished once they have been harvested. Non-renewable resources can be used up completely or else used up to such a degree that it is economically impractical to obtain any more of them. Fossil fuels and metal ores are examples of non-renewable resources.

See "Developed World."

Nuclear fission
The splitting of uranium isotopes to produce heat, which is then harnessed to produce electricity.

Nuclear fusion
The fusing together of elements to produce either electrically-charged particles or heat, which is then harnessed to produce electricity. This technology is currently being researched but thus far is not cost-effective. Some scientists believe that it is possible to produce non-radioactive nuclear power with this type of technology.

Oceans and Coastal Areas

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

Referring to or derived from living organisms. In chemistry, organic refers to any compound containing carbon.

Organic Compounds
Compounds composed of carbon and hydrogen. Organic compounds form the basic building blocks of living tissue.

A living thing.

A gas composed of three atoms of oxygen (03). Ozone partially filters certain wavelengths of ultraviolet light from the Earth. Ozone is a desirable gas in the stratosphere, but in high concentrations at ground level, it is toxic to living organisms.

Ozone layer (stratospheric ozone)
Ozone that is formed in the stratosphere from the conversion of oxygen molecules by solar radiation. Ozone absorbs much ultraviolet radiation and prevents it from reaching the Earth.

Programme Activity Centre

Parts Per Million (PPM)
The number of "parts" by weight of a substance per million parts of water. This unit is commonly used to represent pollutant concentrations. Large concentrations are expressed in percentages.

Pollution Control Research Institute