Glossary of climate change

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This article serves as a glossary of climate change terms. It lists terms that are related to global warming.

Global warming rise in the average temperature of the Earths climate system and its related effects

Global warming is a long-term rise in the average temperature of the Earth's climate system, an aspect of climate change shown by temperature measurements and by multiple effects of the warming. Though earlier geological periods also experienced episodes of warming, the term commonly refers to the observed and continuing increase in average air and ocean temperatures since 1900 caused mainly by emissions of greenhouse gasses in the modern industrial economy. In the modern context the terms global warming and climate change are commonly used interchangeably, but climate change includes both global warming and its effects, such as changes to precipitation and impacts that differ by region. Many of the observed warming changes since the 1950s are unprecedented in the instrumental temperature record, and in historical and paleoclimate proxy records of climate change over thousands to millions of years.



100,000-year problem discrepancy between past temperatures and the amount of incoming solar radiation

The 100,000-year problem of the Milankovitch theory of orbital forcing refers to a discrepancy between the reconstructed geologic temperature record and the reconstructed amount of incoming solar radiation, or insolation over the past 800,000 years. Due to variations in the Earth's orbit, the amount of insolation varies with periods of around 21,000, 40,000, 100,000, and 400,000 years. Variations in the amount of incident solar energy drive changes in the climate of the Earth, and are recognised as a key factor in the timing of initiation and termination of glaciations.


Adaptation Trait with a current functional role in the life history of an organism maintained and evolved by natural selection

In biology, adaptation has three related meanings. Firstly, it is the dynamic evolutionary process that fits organisms to their environment, enhancing their evolutionary fitness. Secondly, it is a state reached by the population during that process. Thirdly, it is a phenotypic trait or adaptive trait, with a functional role in each individual organism, that is maintained and has evolved through natural selection.

Carbon offset reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for or to offset an emission made elsewhere

A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere.

Albedo ratio of reflected radiation to incident radiation

Albedo is the measure of the diffuse reflection of solar radiation out of the total solar radiation received by an astronomical body. It is dimensionless and measured on a scale from 0 to 1.

Anoxic event Intervals in the Earths past where parts of oceans were depleted of oxygen at depth over a large geographic area

Oceanic anoxic events or anoxic events (anoxia conditions) were intervals in the Earth's past where portions of oceans become depleted in oxygen (O2) at depths over a large geographic area. During some of these events, euxinia, waters that contained H
hydrogen sulfide, developed. Although anoxic events have not happened for millions of years, the geological record shows that they happened many times in the past. Anoxic events coincided with several mass extinctions and may have contributed to them. These mass extinctions include some that geobiologists use as time markers in biostratigraphic dating. Many geologists believe oceanic anoxic events are strongly linked to slowing of ocean circulation, climatic warming, and elevated levels of greenhouse gases. Researchers have proposed enhanced volcanism (the release of CO2) as the "central external trigger for euxinia".

Ocean A body of water that composes much of a planets hydrosphere

An ocean is a body of water that composes much of a planet's hydrosphere. On Earth, an ocean is one of the major conventional divisions of the World Ocean. These are, in descending order by area, the Pacific, Atlantic, Indian, Southern (Antarctic), and Arctic Oceans. The word "ocean" is often used interchangeably with "sea" in American English. Strictly speaking, a sea is a body of water partly or fully enclosed by land, though "the sea" refers also to the oceans.

The Antarctic oscillation is a low-frequency mode of atmospheric variability of the southern hemisphere. It is also known as the Southern Annular Mode (SAM). It is defined as a belt of westerly winds or low pressure surrounding Antarctica which moves north or south as its mode of variability. In its positive phase, the westerly wind belt that drives the Antarctic Circumpolar Current intensifies and contracts towards Antarctica, while its negative phase involves this belt moving towards the Equator. Winds associated with the Southern Annular Mode cause oceanic upwelling of warm circumpolar deep water along the Antarctic continental shelf, which has been linked to ice shelf basal melt, representing a possible wind-driven mechanism that could destabilize large portions of the Antarctic Ice Sheet.


Carbon cycle Biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere,

The carbon cycle is the biogeochemical cycle by which carbon is exchanged among the biosphere, pedosphere, geosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere of the Earth. Carbon is the main component of biological compounds as well as a major component of many minerals such as limestone. Along with the nitrogen cycle and the water cycle, the carbon cycle comprises a sequence of events that are key to make Earth capable of sustaining life. It describes the movement of carbon as it is recycled and reused throughout the biosphere, as well as long-term processes of carbon sequestration to and release from carbon sinks.

A carbon diet refers to reducing the impact on climate change by reducing greenhouse gas production specifically, CO2 production. In today’s society, humans produce CO2 in every day activities such as driving, heating, deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, oil and gas. It has been found that carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, natural gas, and oil for electricity and heat is the largest single source of global greenhouse gas emissions. For years, governments and corporations have been attempting to balance out their emissions by participating in carbon-offsetting — the practice in which they invest in renewable energy to compensate for the global warming pollution that they produce. Despite these efforts the results are still far off and we continue to see growth in CO2 concentration. Now, a growing number of individuals are trying to make a reduction in the amount of CO2 that is being produced by participating in low carbon dieting. This small adjustment in household CO2 production has the potential to reduce emissions much more quickly than other kinds of changes and it deserves explicit consideration as part of climate policy. It can potentially help avoid “overshoot” of greenhouse gas concentration targets; provide a demonstration effect; reduce emissions at low cost; and buy time to develop new technologies, policies, and institutions to reach long-term greenhouse gas emission targets and to develop adaptation strategies.

Carbon footprint total set of greenhouse gas emissions caused by an individual, event, organisation, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent

A carbon footprint is historically defined as the total emissions caused by an individual, event, organization, or product, expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent. Greenhouse gases (GHGs), including carbon dioxide, can be emitted through land clearance and the production and consumption of food, fuels, manufactured goods, materials, wood, roads, buildings, transportation and other services.

















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Greenhouse effect atmosopheric phenomenon

The greenhouse effect is the process by which radiation from a planet's atmosphere warms the planet's surface to a temperature above what it would be without its atmosphere.

Global warming potential (GWP) is a measure of how much heat a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere up to a specific time horizon, relative to carbon dioxide. It compares the amount of heat trapped by a certain mass of the gas in question to the amount of heat trapped by a similar mass of carbon dioxide and is expressed as a factor of carbon dioxide.

Climate model Quantitative methods used to simulate climate

Climate models use quantitative methods to simulate the interactions of the important drivers of climate, including atmosphere, oceans, land surface and ice. They are used for a variety of purposes from study of the dynamics of the climate system to projections of future climate.

Climatology The scientific study of climate, defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time

Climatology or climate science is the scientific study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time. This modern field of study is regarded as a branch of the atmospheric sciences and a subfield of physical geography, which is one of the Earth sciences. Climatology now includes aspects of oceanography and biogeochemistry. Basic knowledge of climate can be used within shorter term weather forecasting using analog techniques such as the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO), the North Atlantic oscillation (NAO), the Northern Annular Mode (NAM) which is also known as the Arctic oscillation (AO), the Northern Pacific (NP) Index, the Pacific decadal oscillation (PDO), and the Interdecadal Pacific Oscillation (IPO). Climate models are used for a variety of purposes from study of the dynamics of the weather and climate system to projections of future climate. Weather is known as the condition of the atmosphere over a period of time, while climate has to do with the atmospheric condition over an extended to indefinite period of time.

Radiative forcing

Radiative forcing or climate forcing is the difference between insolation (sunlight) absorbed by the Earth and energy radiated back to space. The influences that cause changes to the Earth’s climate system altering Earth’s radiative equilibrium, forcing temperatures to rise or fall, are called climate forcings. Positive radiative forcing means Earth receives more incoming energy from sunlight than it radiates to space. This net gain of energy will cause warming. Conversely, negative radiative forcing means that Earth loses more energy to space than it receives from the sun, which produces cooling.

Earths energy budget

Earth's energy budget accounts for the balance between the energy Earth receives from the Sun, and the energy the Earth radiates back into outer space after having been distributed throughout the five components of Earth's climate system and having thus powered the so-called Earth’s heat engine. This system is made up of earth's water, ice, atmosphere, rocky crust, and all living things.

Climate engineering or climate intervention, commonly referred to as geoengineering, is the deliberate and large-scale intervention in the Earth’s climate system, usually with the aim of mitigating the adverse effects of global warming. Climate engineering is an umbrella term for measures that mainly fall into two categories: greenhouse gas removal and solar radiation management. Greenhouse gas removal approaches, of which carbon dioxide removal represents the most prominent subcategory addresses the cause of global warming by removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. Solar radiation management attempts to offset effects of greenhouse gases by causing the Earth to absorb less solar radiation.

This is a list of meteorology topics. The terms relate to meteorology, the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere that focuses on weather processes and forecasting.


A runaway greenhouse effect is a state in which a net positive feedback between surface temperature and atmospheric opacity increases the strength of the greenhouse effect on a planet until its oceans boil away.An example of this is believed to have happened in the early history of Venus. On the Earth the IPCC states that "a 'runaway greenhouse effect'—analogous to [that of] Venus—appears to have virtually no chance of being induced by anthropogenic activities."

Black carbon

Chemically, black carbon (BC) is a component of fine particulate matter. Black carbon consists of pure carbon in several linked forms. It is formed through the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuel, and biomass, and is emitted in both anthropogenic and naturally occurring soot.

Polar meteorology is the study of the atmosphere of Earth's polar regions. Surface temperature inversion is typical of polar environments and leads to the katabatic wind phenomenon. The vertical temperature structure of polar environments tends to be more complex than in mid-latitude or tropical climates.

Polar amplification

Polar amplification is the phenomenon that any change in the net radiation balance tends to produce a larger change in temperature near the poles than the planetary average. On a planet with an atmosphere that can restrict longwave radiation to space, surface temperatures will be warmer than a simple planetary equilibrium temperature calculation would predict. Where the atmosphere or an extensive ocean is able to transport heat polewards, the poles will be warmer and equatorial regions cooler than their local net radiation balances would predict.  

This is a list of climate change topics.

Solar radiation management type of geoengineering

Solar radiation management (SRM) projects are a type of climate engineering which seek to reflect sunlight and thus reduce global warming. Proposed methods include increasing the planetary albedo, for example using stratospheric sulfate aerosols. Restorative methods have been proposed regarding the protection of natural heat reflectors like sea ice, snow and glaciers with engineering projects. Their principal advantages as an approach to climate engineering is the speed with which they can be deployed and become fully active, their potential low financial cost, and the reversibility of their direct climatic effects.

Greenhouse gas gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation within the thermal infrared range

A greenhouse gas is a gas that absorbs and emits radiant energy within the thermal infrared range. Greenhouse gases cause the greenhouse effect. The primary greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. Without greenhouse gases, the average temperature of Earth's surface would be about −18 °C (0 °F), rather than the present average of 14 °C (57 °F). The atmospheres of Venus, Mars and Titan also contain greenhouse gases.

History of climate change science

The history of the scientific discovery of climate change began in the early 19th century when ice ages and other natural changes in paleoclimate were first suspected and the natural greenhouse effect first identified. In the late 19th century, scientists first argued that human emissions of greenhouse gases could change the climate. Many other theories of climate change were advanced, involving forces from volcanism to solar variation. In the 1960s, the warming effect of carbon dioxide gas became increasingly convincing. Some scientists also pointed out that human activities that generated atmospheric aerosols could have cooling effects as well. During the 1970s, scientific opinion increasingly favored the warming viewpoint. By the 1990s, as a result of improving fidelity of computer models and observational work confirming the Milankovitch theory of the ice ages, a consensus position formed: greenhouse gases were deeply involved in most climate changes and human-caused emissions were bringing discernible global warming. Since the 1990s, scientific research on climate change has included multiple disciplines and has expanded. Research has expanded our understanding of causal relations, links with historic data and ability to model climate change numerically. Research during this period has been summarized in the Assessment Reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Climate change feedback

Climate change feedback is important in the understanding of global warming because feedback processes may amplify or diminish the effect of each climate forcing, and so play an important part in determining the climate sensitivity and future climate state. Feedback in general is the process in which changing one quantity changes a second quantity, and the change in the second quantity in turn changes the first. Positive feedback amplifies the change in the first quantity while negative feedback reduces it.

A climate oscillation or climate cycle is any recurring cyclical oscillation within global or regional climate, and is a type of climate pattern. These fluctuations in atmospheric temperature, sea surface temperature, precipitation or other parameters can be quasi-periodic, often occurring on inter-annual, multi-annual, decadal, multidecadal, century-wide, millennial or longer timescales. They are not perfectly periodic and a Fourier analysis of the data does not give a sharp spectrum.


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  2. Arctic Climate Impact Assessment - International Arctic Science Committee
  3. RealClimate
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