Environment Encyclopedia

Environment Encyclopedia

If you would like to prepare for school subjects or simply increase your general knowledge, then enjoy our environment encyclopedia. We tried to focus only on very important terms and definitions. We also kept our terminology very brief so that you absorb the concept more quickly and easily.

Environment Glossary (Page 1)


0-91-IN-100 FLOOD: A flood with 1 in 100 chance of occurring in any given year (used as a safety requirement for the construction industry.).
20/30/10 STANDARD: 20 mg/l Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), 30 mg/l Suspended Solids (SS), 10 units of E. Coli: the water quality standard for greywater use in toilets, laundry and surface irrigation.
5RS: (sustainability) reduce, remanufacture, reuse, recycle, recover.
ABIOTIC: Non-living chemical and physical factors of the environment (see also biotic).
ABSORPTION: One substance taking in another, either physically or chemically.
ABSORPTION PIT (SOAKAWAY): A hole dug in permeable ground and filled with broken stones or granular material and usually covered with earth allowing collected water to soak into the ground.
ACCLIMATION: The process of an organism adjusting to chronic change in its environment.
ACID MINE DRAINAGE: The outflow of acidic water from metal mines or coal mines.
ACID RAIN: The precipitation of dilute solutions of strong mineral acids, formed by the mixing in the atmosphere of various industrial pollutants primarily sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides with naturally occurring oxygen and water vapor.
ACT: In the legislative sense, a bill or measure passed by both houses of Congress; a law.
ADAPTATION: A characteristic of an organism that has been favoured by natural selection.
ADAPTIVE RADIATION: Closely related species that look very different, as a result of having adapted to widely different ecological niches.
ADJOURNMENT: The end of a legislative day or session.
ADSORPTION: One substance taking up another at its surface.
AEROBIC: Requiring air or oxygen; used in reference to decomposition processes that occur in the presence of oxygen.
AEROSOL: A suspension of small liquid or solid particles in gas.
AEROSOLS: Solid or liquid particles suspended within the atmosphere.
AFFLUENZA: As defined in the book of the same name[1] 1. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by dogged pursuit of the Australian dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. The traditional Western environmentally unfriendly high consumption life-style: a play on the words affluence and influenza cf. Froogle, freegan.
AFFORESTATION: Planting trees where there were none before.
AGROFORESTRY: 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.
AIR POLLUTION: Toxic or radioactive gases or particulate matter introduced into the atmosphere, usually as a result of human activity.
ALBEDO: Reflectance; refers to the ratio of light from the Sun that is reflected by the Earth's surface, to the light received by it. Unreflected light is converted to infrared radiation (heat), which causes atmospheric warming (see "radiative forcing"). Thus, surfaces with a high albedo, like snow and ice, generally contribute to cooling, whereas surfaces with a low albedo, like forests, generally contribute to warming. Changes in land use that significantly alter the characteristics of land surfaces can alter the albedo.
ALGAE: 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.
ALGAL BLOOM: The rapid and excessive growth of algae; generally caused by high nutrient levels combined with other favourable conditions. Blooms can deoxygenate the water leading to the loss of wildlife.
ALIEN SPECIES: See introduced species.
ALLOY: Composite blend of materials made under special conditions. Metal alloys like brass and bronze are well known but there are also many plastic alloys.
ALTERNATIVE ENERGY: Energy that is not popularly used and is usually environmentally sound, such as solar or wind energy (as opposed to fossil fuels).
ALTERNATIVE FIBERS: Fibers produced from non-wood sources for use in paper making.
ALTERNATIVE FUELS: Transportation fuels other than gasoline or diesel. Includes natural gas, methanol, and electricity.
ALTERNATIVE TRANSPORTATION: Modes of travel other than private cars, such as walking, bicycling, rollerblading, carpooling and transit.
ALUMINUM: A highly-recyclable metal that also has high resale value when recycled. It is commonly found in soda cans, and is a member of The Big Five. Aluminum is a lightweight, silver-white, metallic element that makes up approximately 7 percent of the Earth's crust. Aluminum is mined in the form of bauxite ore where it exists primarily in combination with oxygen as alumina. Aluminum is used in a variety of ways, but perhaps most familiarly in the manufacture of soft drink cans.
AMENDMENT: A change or addition to an existing law or rule.
ANAEROBIC: Not requiring air or oxygen; used in reference to decomposition processes that occur in the absence of oxygen.
ANAEROBIC DIGESTION: The biological degradation of organic materials in the absence of oxygen to yield methane gas (that may be combusted to produce energy) and stabilised organic residues (that may be used as a soil additive).
ANCIENT FOREST: A forest that is typically older than 200 years with large trees, dense canopies and an abundance of diverse wildlife.
ANTHROPOGENIC: Human-induced or human-caused, derived from the Greek root anthropos meaning "man.".
ANTHROPOSOPHY: Spiritual philosophy based on the teachings of Rudolf Steiner (25 February 1861-30 March 1925) which postulates the existence of an objective, intellectually comprehensible spiritual world accessible to direct experience through inner development-more specifically through cultivating conscientiously a form of thinking independent of sensory experience. Steiner was the initiator of biodynamic gardening.
APPLICATION EFFICIENCY: (sustainability) the efficiency of watering after losses due to runoff, leaching, evaporation, wind etc.
APPORTIONMENT: The process through which legislative seats are allocated to different regions.
APPROPRIATED CARRYING CAPACITY: Another name for the Ecological Footprint, but often used in referring to the imported ecological capacity of goods from overseas.
APPROPRIATION: The setting aside of funds for a designated purpose (e.g., there is an appropriation of $7 billion to build 5 new submarines).
AQUACULTURE: The controlled rearing of fish or shellfish by people or corporations who own the harvestable product, often involving the capture of the eggs or young of a species from wild sources, followed by rearing more intensively than possible in nature.
AQUIFER: Underground source of water.
ARABLE LAND: Land that can be used for growing crops.
ARID: Regions where precipitation is insufficient in quantity for most crops and where agriculture is impractical without irrigation.
ARMS CONTROL: Coordinated action based on agreements to limit, regulate, or reduce weapon systems by the parties involved.
ASH: Incombustible residue left over after incineration or other thermal processes.
ASTHMA: A condition marked by labored breathing, constriction of the chest, coughing and gasping usually brought on by allergies.
ATMOSPHERE: The 500 km thick layer of air surrounding the earth which supports the existence of all flora and fauna.
ATOMIC ENERGY: Energy released in nuclear reactions. When a neutron splits an atom's nucleus into smaller pieces it is called fission. When two nuclei are joined together under millions of degrees of heat it is called fusion.
AUTOTROPH: An organism that produces complex organic compounds from simple inorganic molecules using energy from light or inorganic chemical reactions.
AVAILABLE ENERGY: Energy with the potential to do work (exergy);.
AVAILABLE WATER CAPACITY: That proportion of soil water that can be readily absorbed by plant roots.
AVOIDANCE: (sustainability) the first step in the waste hierarchy where waste generation is prevented (avoided).
BACKFLOW: Movement of water back to source e.g. Contaminated water in a plumbing system.
BAFFLE: (landscape design) an obstruction to trap debris in drainage water.
BAGASSE: The fibrous residue of sugar cane milling used as a fuel to produce steam in sugar mills.
BASELOAD: The steady and reliable supply of energy through the grid. This is punctuated by bursts of higher demand known as "peak-load". Supply companies must be able to respond instantly to extreme variation in demand and supply, especially during extreme conditions. Gas generators can react quickly while coal is slow but provides the steady "baseload". Renewable energies are generally not available on demand in this way.
BATTERS: (landscape design) the slope of earthworks such as drainage channels.
BEACH CLOSURE: The closing of a beach to swimming, usually because of pollution.
BEST PRACTICE: A process, technique, or innovative use of technology, equipment or resources or other measurable factors that have a proven record of success.
BIG FIVE: The five most commonly Curbside recycling programs will incorporate most (if not all) of these materials.
BILL: A proposed law, to be debated and voted on.
BILLFISH: Pelagic fish with long, spear-like protrusions at their snouts, such as swordfish and marlin.
BIOACCUMULATION: The accumulation of a substance, such as a toxic chemical, in the tissues of a living organism.
BIOCAPACITY: A measure of the biological productivity of an area. This may depend on natural conditions or human inputs like farming and forestry practices; the area needed to support the consumption of a defined population.
BIOCOENOSIS: (ALTERNATIVELY, BIOCOENOSE OR BIOCENOSE ) All the interacting organisms living together in a specific habitat (or biotope).
BIODEGRADABLE: Waste material composed primarily of naturally-occurring constituent parts, able to be broken down and absorbed into the ecosystem. Wood, for example, is biodegradable, for example, while plastics are not.
BIODIVERSITY: A large number and wide range of species of animals, plants, fungi, and microorganisms. Ecologically, wide biodiversity is conducive to the development of all species.
BIOELEMENT: An element required by a living organism.
BIOENERGY: Used in different senses: in its most narrow sense it is a synonym for biofuel, fuel derived from biological sources. In its broader sense it encompasses also biomass, the biological material used as a biofuel, as well as the social, economic, scientific and technical fields associated with using biological sources for energy.
BIOFUEL: Type of renewable resource that is produced from biomass, a recently living element such as animals, plantlife or wood. It can provide energy from unexpected sources, such as the gas from landfills. One of the biggest potential forms of biofuel is biodiesel, which lessens cars' dependence on gasoline.
BIOGAS: Landfill gas and sewage gas, also called biomass gas.
BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLE: A circuit or pathway by which a chemical element or molecule moves through both biotic ("bio-") and abiotic ("geo-") parts of an ecosystem.
BIOGEOCHEMICAL CYCLES: The movement of chemical elements between organisms and non-living components of the atmosphere, aquatic systems and soils.
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 OXYGEN DEMAND (BOD): A chemical procedure for determining how fast biological organisms use up oxygen in a body of water.
BIOLOGICAL PEST CONTROL: A method of controlling pests (including insects, mites, weeds and plant diseases) that relies on predation, parasitism, herbivory, or other natural mechanisms.
BIOLOGICAL PRODUCTIVITY: (bioproductivity) the capacity of a given area to produce biomass; different ecosystems (i.e. Pasture, forest, etc.) Will have different levels of bioproductivity. Biological productivity is determined by dividing the total biological production (how much is grown and living) by the total area available.
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.
BIOLOGICALLY PRODUCTIVE LAND: Is land that is fertile enough to support forests, agriculture and / or animal life. All of the biologically productive land of a country comprises its biological capacity. Arable land is typically the most productive area.
BIOMASS: (1) the amount of living matter in an area, including plants, large animals and insects; (2) plant materials and animal waste used as fuel.
BIOME: A climatic and geographically defined area of ecologically similar communities of plants, animals, and soil organisms, often referred to as ecosystems.
BIOPHYSICAL: The living and non-living components and processes of the ecosphere. Biophysical measurements of nature quantify the ecosphere in physical units such as cubic metres, kilograms or joules.
BIOREGION: (ecoregion) an area comprising a natural ecological community and bounded by natural borders.
BIOREMEDIATION: A process using organisms to remove or neutralise contaminants (e.g. Petrol), mostly in soil or water.
BIOSOLIDS: Nutrient-rich organic materials derived from wastewater solids (sewage sludge) that have been stabilised through processing.
BIOSPHERE: (1) the part of the earth and its atmosphere in which living organisms exist or that is capable of supporting life; (2) the living organisms and their environment composing the biosphere.
BIOSPHERE RESERVE: A part of an international network of preserved areas designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Biosphere Reserves are vital centers of biodiversity where research and monitoring activities are conducted, with the participation of local communities, to protect and preserve healthy natural systems threatened by development. The global system currently includes 324 reserves in 83 countries.
BIOTIC: Of or relating to life.
BIOTIC POTENTIAL: The maximum reproductive capacity of a population under optimum environmental conditions.
BIRTH CONTROL: Preventing birth or reducing frequency of birth, primarily by preventing conception.
BIRTH DEFECTS: Unhealthy defects found in newborns, often caused by the mother's exposure to environmental hazards or the intake of drugs or alcohol during pregnancy.
BIRTH RATE: The number of babies born annually per 1,000 women of reproductive age in any given set of people.
BLACKWATER: Household wastewater that contains solid waste i.e. Toilet discharge.
BLOC: A group of people with the same interest or goal (usually used to describe a voting bloc, a group of representatives intending to vote the same way).
BLOOD LEAD LEVELS: The amount of lead in the blood. Human exposure to lead in blood can cause brain damage, especially in children.
BLUEWATER: Collectible water from rainfall; the water that falls on roofs and hard surfaces usually flowing into rivers and the sea and recharging the ground water. In nature the global average proportion of total rainfall that is blue water is about 40%. Blue water productivity in the garden can be increased by improving irrigation techniques, soil water storage, moderating the climate, using garden design and water-conserving plantings; also safe use of grey water.
BOREAL: Northern; often referring to cold temperate Northern Hemisphere forests that grow where there is a mean annual temperature < 0°C.

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