Arctic Climate Change


Glossary over Arctic Climate Change


Adjustment in natural or human systems to a new or changing environment.

Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory and reactive adaptation, private and public adaptation, and autonomous and planned adaptation. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment
 Glossary )

Algal bloom

The rapid excessive growth of algae, generally caused by high nutrient levels and favourable conditions. Can result in deoxygenation of the water mass when the algae die, leading to the death of aquatic flora and fauna. (Source: Water resources Management Practicum 2000 Biology )


Alien species

An alien species is a species introduced outside its normal distribution.

Invasive alien species are alien species whose establishment and spread modify ecosystems, habitats, or species. (Source: MA  Glossary )



Breeding and rearing of fish, shellfish, or plants in ponds, enclosures, or other forms of confinement in fresh or marine waters for the direct harvest of the product. (Source: MA   Glossary )

Arctic Climate Impact Assessment

"An international project of the Arctic Council and the International Arctic Science Committee (IASC), to evaluate and synthesize knowledge on climate variability, climate change, and increased ultraviolet radiation and their consequences. The results of the assessment were released at the ACIA International Scientific Symposium held in Reykjavik, Iceland in November 2004." (Source: ACIA website )

Arctic treeline

The northern limit of tree growth; the sinuous boundary between tundra and boreal forest. (Source: AMS Glossary of Meteorology  )



The mass of air surrounding the Earth.

The atmosphere consists of nitrogen (78%), oxygen (21%), and traces of other gases such as argon, helium, carbon dioxide, and ozone.

The atmosphere plays an important role in the protection of life on Earth; it absorbs ultraviolet solar radiation and reduces temperature extremes between day and night. (Source: GreenFacts)



Bacteria are a major group of micro-organisms that live in soil, water, plants, organic matter, or the bodies of animals or people. They are microscopic and mostly unicellular, with a relatively simple cell structure.

Some bacteria cause diseases such as tetanus, typhoid fever, pneumonia, syphilis, cholera, and tuberculosis.

Bacteria play a role in the decomposition of organic matter and other chemical processes. (Source: GreenFacts)



Biodiversity is a contraction of biological diversity. Biodiversity reflects the number, variety and variability of living organisms.

It includes diversity within species (genetic diversity), between species (species diversity), and between ecosystems (ecosystem diversity). (Source: GreenFacts)


Boreal forest

A forest that grows in regions of the northern hemisphere with cold temperatures. Made up mostly of cold tolerant coniferous species such as spruce and fir. (Source: LEAF Glossary   )



The breaking, melting, and loosening of ice in the spring. (Source: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary   )



Any one of a group of diseases that occur when cells in the body become abnormal and have the potential to spread and establish growth in nearby tissues and other parts of the body (malignancy). (Source: GreenFacts )


Carbon dioxide (CO2)

A colorless, odorless, non-combustible gas, present in low concentrations in the air we breathe (about three hundredths of one percent by volume).

Carbon dioxide is produced when any substance containing carbon is burned. It is also a product of breathing and fermentation. Plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis. (Source: The Pacific Forest Trust Glossary )



Organic compounds made up of atoms of carbon, chlorine (Cl2), and fluorine (F2). An example is CFC-12 (CCl2F2), used as a refrigerant in refrigerators and air conditioners and as a foam blowing agent. Gaseous CFCs can deplete the ozone layer when they slowly rise into the stratosphere, are broken down by strong ultraviolet radiation, release chlorine atoms, and then react with ozone molecules. (Source: US EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms  )

Climate change

The long-term fluctuations in temperature, precipitation, wind, and all other aspects of the Earth's climate.

It is also defined by the United Nations Convention on Climate Change as “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 time periods” (Source: CoRIS glossary  )


A large fish that often lives close to the seafloor.

Cod have firm white flesh; for centuries, cod have been important to people of many nations as a food fish.

The largest kind of cod fish is the Atlantic cod, an important food fish of northern Atlantic waters.

The Atlantic cod has a distinctive elongated hairlike structure called a "barbell" that hangs from its chin; it also has three dorsal fins, and two anal fins. The Atlantic cod may reach 2 meters in length, and its average weight is about 30 kilograms. (Source: GreenFacts)



When referring to humans, a community is defined as:

A collection of human beings who have something in common.

A local community is a fairly small group of people who share a common place of residence and a set of institutions based on this fact, but the word ‘community’ is also used to refer to larger collections of people who have something else in common (e.g., national community, donor community).

When referring to other living organisms, a community is defined as:

An assemblage of species occurring in the same space or time, often linked by biotic interactions such as competition or predation. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )


A substance that is either present in an environment where it does not belong or is present at levels that might cause harmful effects to humans or the environment. (Source: GreenFacts)

Cool-season vegetables

Cool-season vegetables require cool soil and air temperatures if they are to germinate, grow and mature with maximum yield and quality. They are shallow-rooted and thus are susceptible to drought. (Source: UT Extension  Guide to Cool-Season Vegetables )



A delta is a low, watery land formed at the mouth of a river.

It is formed from the silt, sand and small rocks that flow downstream in the river and are deposited in the delta.

A delta is often (but not always) shaped like a triangle. (Source: NY Geography Glossary  )



The variety and relative abundance of different entities in a sample. (Source: MA  Glossary )

Ecological surprises

Unexpected - and often disproportionately large - consequences of changes in the environment (such as change in climate or invasions of alien species). (Source: MA Glossary  )


The complex system of plant, animal, fungal, and microorganism communities and their associated non-living environment interacting as an ecological unit.

Ecosystems have no fixed boundaries; instead their parameters are set to the scientific, management, or policy question being examined. Depending upon the purpose of analysis, a single lake, a watershed, or an entire region could be considered an ecosystem. (Source: US EPA Glossary of Climate Change Terms   )

Environmental cycles

A natural process in which elements are continuously cycled in various forms between different compartments of the environment (e.g., air, water, soil, organisms).

Examples include the carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycles (nutrient cycles) and the water cycle. (Source: GreenFacts)



The process by which a system responds to a disturbance that makes it deviate from its initial state. (Source: GreenFacts)


Fish meal

A high-protein animal feed supplement made by cooking, pressing, drying, and grinding fish or shellfish. (Source: NOAA  Glossary )


Fish oil

An oil extracted from body (body oil) or liver (liver oil) of fish and marine mammals; mostly a byproduct of fish meal production. (Source: NOAA  Glossary )

Fish stock

The population or [total mass] of a fishery resource. Such stocks are usually identified by their location. They can be, but are not always, genetically discrete from other stocks. (Source: MA  Glossary )



A particular kind of fishing activity, e.g., a trawl fishery or a particular species targeted, e.g., a cod fishery or salmon fishery. (Source: MA  Glossary )

Food web

The interconnected food chains (feeding relationships) in an ecosystem. Plants, herbivores, and carnivores all form parts of the food web. (Source: GreenFacts)


Fossil fuel(s)

A general term for buried combustible geologic deposits of organic materials, formed from decayed plants and animals that have been converted to crude oil, coal, natural gas, or heavy oils by exposure to heat and pressure in the Earth's crust over hundreds of millions of years. (Source: US EPA Glossary of Climate Change terms  )


Water that is not salty, for instance water found in lakes, streams, and rivers, but not the ocean. Also used to refer to things living in or related to freshwater (e.g., "freshwater fish"). (Source: GreenFacts)



A moving body of ice that forms on land from the accumulation and compaction of snow, and that flows downslope or outward due to gravity and the pressure of its own weight. (Source: Alcwin Dictionary of Geology  )


Greenhouse gas

Greenhouse gases are those gaseous constituents of the atmosphere, both natural and anthropogenic, that absorb and emit radiation at specific wavelengths within the spectrum of infrared radiation emitted by the Earth’s surface, the atmosphere and clouds.

This property causes the greenhouse effect.

Water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrous oxide (N2O), methane (CH4), and ozone (O3) are the primary greenhouse gases in the Earth’s atmosphere. Moreover there are a number of entirely human-made greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as the halocarbons and other chlorine and bromine containing substances, dealt with under the Montreal Protocol. Beside CO2, N2O and CH4, the Kyoto Protocol deals with the greenhouse gases sulphur hexafluoride (SF6), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and perfluorocarbons (PFCs). (Source: IPCC Glossary  )

Greenland Ice Sheet

The Greenland Ice Sheet is a vast body of ice covering roughly 80% of the surface of Greenland. It is the second largest ice body in the world, after the Antarctic Ice Sheet.

Part of the top layer of ice of this ice sheet is melting during summer and the area where this is happening increased by about 16% between 1979 and 2002, an area roughly the size of Sweden. (Source: GreenFacts Digest on based onACIA )



Water beneath the Earth's surface in the spaces between soil particles and between rock surfaces. (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )

Gulf Stream

Current of warm ocean water that flows from the Gulf of Mexico to the coasts of Europe, providing the heat that keeps Europe warmer in winter than regions of North America at the same latitude. (Source: GreenFacts Digest on based on ACIA )


The location and environmental conditions in which a particular organism normally lives. (Source: MA  Glossary )

Habitat change

Change in the local environmental conditions in which a particular organism lives.

Habitat change can occur naturally through droughts, disease, fire, hurricanes, mudslides, volcanoes, earthquakes, slight increases or decreases in seasonal temperature or precipitation, etc.

However, it is generally induced by human activities such as land use change and physical modification of rivers or water withdrawal from rivers. (Source: GreenFacts)



The haddock is a sea fish belonging to the cod family, but it is smaller than the Atlantic cod.

This groundfish, also known as offshore hake, lives at depths of between 40 and 300 metres and is found mostly in the northern hemisphere.

Haddock is highly valued as a food fish. (Source: GreenFacts)



Small, primitive, bony fish related to the sardine and the anchovy.

Herrings are relatively small but very abundant; they swim in huge schools, feeding on plankton and small animals and plants.

Most herring family species are ocean-dwelling, living in salt water as adults, but returning to freshwater to spawn, and spending the early part of their lives in freshwater. Other herring family members are strictly freshwater fish.

The adult common herring, found in temperate and cold waters of the North Atlantic, is about 30 cm long with silvery sides and blue back. (Source: GreenFacts)


Ice cap, ice sheet, polar ice cap

An ice cap is a dome-shaped mass of glacier ice that spreads out in all directions; usually larger than an icefield but less than 50 000 km2.

An ice sheet is a dome-shaped mass of glacier ice that covers surrounding terrain and is greater than 50 000 km2, such as the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.

A polar ice cap, also called polar ice sheet, is a high-latitude region of land or water covered in ice-


Ice core

Cylinders of ice obtained by drilling into a glacier.

Since the different layers of ice are formed over time through build-up of snow, ice cores provide information on climate from different periods (up to almost one million years) that can be used for research. (Source: GreenFacts)


Immune system

The immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to defend the body against attacks by “foreign” invaders. (Source: NIAID Immune System   )


Inland waters

Inland waters are permanent water bodies inland from the coastal zone and areas whose properties and use are dominated by the permanent, seasonal, or intermittent occurrence of flooded conditions.

Inland waters include rivers, lakes, floodplains, reservoirs, wetlands, and inland saline systems. (Source: MA Synthesis Report )

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been established by WMO and UNEP to assess scientific, technical and socio- economic information relevant for the understanding of climate change, its potential impacts and options for adaptation and mitigation.

IPCC publications are prepared by three Working Groups (WG I, II and III) composed of hundreds of scientists from many countries. The IPCC's Fourth Assessment Report (4AR), published in 2007, is available at .

The "Summaries for Policymakers" by the three Working Groups, which were used as the source for the GreenFacts Digest on Climate Change (2007), can be found below:

The IPCC's previous report on climate change, the 2001 Third Assessment Report (TAR), was also summarised by GreenFacts (click here for the Digest).

In 2007, the IPCC shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore "for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change". (Source: IPCC website  )

International Polar Foundation

"The International Polar Foundation (IPF) communicates and educates on Polar research as a way to understand key environmental and climate mechanisms. The IPF also promotes innovative and multifaceted responses to the complex challenges raised by the need for action on sustainable development.

The IPF is headquartered in Brussels (established as a "Fondation d'Utilité Publique" in Belgium since 2002) and has local antennae in France, Switzerland and in the United Kingdom. The development of Canadian and US antennae is currently in progress."

"Three other complementary websites focusing on various aspects of the IPF activities are available: SciencePoles is dedicated to Polar Sciences, EducaPoles is providing the educative materials of the IPF, Antarctica is focused on key polar expeditions and adventuring."

The International Polar Foundation is a partner of GreenFacts. (Source: IPF website  )


Indigenous people living in the coastal areas of the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, and the northeastern tip of Siberia. (Source: ArcticNet Photo gallery  )



An area of land that contains a mosaic of ecosystems, including human-dominated ecosystems.

The term cultural landscape is often used when referring to landscapes containing significant human populations or in which there has been significant human influence on the land. (Source: MA  Glossary )


Lichen is a plant-like growth that is actually a result of a fungus and algae living together.

It grows very slowly, lives for a long time, looks like moss or a crusty dry leaf and can grow on bare rock or soil.

Lichen is an important food source for caribou. (Source: INAC Glossary  )



A molecule is the smallest part of any chemical compound composed of two or more atoms and which has the qualities of that substance and can exist alone in a free state. As an example, a molecule of water (H2O) consists of two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen. (Source: GreenFacts, based on Helios Glossary   )

Natural organic matter

Organic matter originating from plants and animals present in natural (untreated or raw) waters, for example, in lakes, rivers and reservoirs. (Source: GreenFacts)


Northwest Passage

Sea passage between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans along the northern coast of North America.



The approximately 20 chemical elements known to be essential for the growth of living organisms, including nitrogen, sulfur, phosphorus, and carbon. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Glossary   )



Ozone is a form of oxygen having the molecular form of O3. It is a bluish, unstable gas with a pungent odour, found in two parts of the atmosphere: the stratosphere and the troposphere.

The ozone layer: The stratosphere contains a layer in which the concentration of ozone is greatest, the so called ozone layer. The layer extends from about 12 to 40 km. It shields the Earth from ultraviolet radiation's harmful health effects on humans and the environment. This layer is being depleted by human emissions of chlorine- and bromine-containing compounds.

Ground-level ozone: At ground level (in the troposphere), ozone is considered an air pollutant that can seriously affect the human respiratory system. It is a chemical oxidant and a major component of photochemical smog. (Source: GreenFacts)



Wetlands where the soil is highly organic because is it formed mostly from incompletely decomposed plants.

This soil is called peat and its presence is what defines peatlands. (Source: Hamilton Naturalists' Club Glossary )



A layer of soil or bedrock at a variable depth beneath the surface of the earth in which the temperature has been below freezing continuously from a few to several thousands of years.


Persistent organic pollutants

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are chemical substances that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate through the food web, and pose a risk of causing adverse effects to human health and the environment. This group of priority pollutants consists of pesticides (such as DDT), industrial chemicals (such as polychlorinated biphenyls, PCBs) and unintentional by-products of industrial processes (such as dioxins and furans).

Persistent Organic Pollutants are transported across international boundaries far from their sources, even to regions where they have never been used or produced. (Source: European Commission Environment DG POPs  )

Polar desert

Polar deserts are areas with annual precipitation less than 250 mm and a mean temperature during the warmest month of less than 10° C.

Polar deserts on the Earth cover nearly 5 million square kilometers and are mostly bedrock or gravel plains. (Source: Death Valley Types of deserts )



A group or number of people living within a specified area or sharing similar characteristics (such as occupation or age). (Source: ATSDR Glossary of Terms  )


Production / Productivity

Production is the process of creating, growing, manufacturing, or improving goods and services. It also refers to the quantity produced.

In economics, productivity is used to measure the efficiency or rate of production. It is the amount of output (e.g. number of goods produced) per unit of input (e.g. labor, equipment, and capital).

In biology, productivity is a measure of the efficiency with which a biological system converts energy into growth. (Source: GreenFacts)


Energy moving in the form of particles or waves. Familiar radiations are heat, light, radio waves, and microwaves. Ionizing radiation is a very high-energy form of electromagnetic radiation. (Source: US Center for Disease Control and Prevention Glossary of Radiological Terms   )



A measure of the salt concentration of water. (Source: CoRIS Glossary  )


A plausible and often simplified description of how the future may develop, based on a coherent and internally consistent set of assumptions about key driving forces (e.g., rate of technology change, prices) and relationships.

Scenarios are neither predictions nor projections and sometimes may be based on a “narrative storyline.”

Scenarios may include projections but are often based on additional information from other sources. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )


Sea ice

Sea ice is frozen ocean water.

It occurs in both the Arctic and Antarctic and can cover large extents of water.

It grows during the winter months and melts during the summer months, but some sea ice remains all year in certain regions.

About 15 percent of the world's oceans are covered by sea ice during part of the year.

The freezing temperature of salt water is lower than fresh water; ocean temperatures must reach -1.8° C Celsius (28.8°F) to freeze. (Source: GreenFacts based on NSIDC All about sea ice )



A group of organisms that differ from all other groups of organisms and that are capable of breeding and producing fertile offspring. This is the smallest unit of classification for plants and animals. (Source: OceanLink Glossary of Common Terms and Definitions in Marine Biology  )



Generic name that refers to some 35 species of coniferous evergreen trees having conical form, needlelike foliage and drooping cones.

Spruces are found in the northern temperate and boreal regions of the earth.


Storm surge

Storm surge is a rise in coastal water level caused by a regional low pressure area and water pushed toward coastal shores by prolonged wind forces.

A storm surge can significantly raise the mean water level if combined with astronomical high tides. This rise in water level can cause severe flooding on coastal areas, particularly along shallow slopes along the shoreline. (Source: British Columbia Flood Hazard Definitions   )



The highly stratified region of the atmosphere above the troposphere extending from about 10 km (ranging from 9 km in high latitudes to 16 km in the tropics on average) to about 50 km. (Source: Climate Change Glossary)


Thermohaline circulation

Large-scale density-driven circulation in the ocean, caused by differences in temperature and salinity.

In the north Atlantic, the thermohaline circulation consists of warm surface water flowing northward and cold deepwater flowing southward, resulting in a net poleward transport of heat.

The surface water sinks in highly restricted sinking regions located in high latitudes (Source: ACIA  Glossary )


Threshold (in an ecosystem)

The level of magnitude of a system process at which sudden or rapid change occurs. (Source: Glossary of terms  )



Able to poison or harm an organism. Toxic substances can cause adverse health effects. (Source: GreenFacts)


A group of large predatory fish species related to the mackerel living in the open ocean.

Many tuna species are important food fish for people. Tunas are the single most important resource exploited in the high seas.

Examples of tuna species include the large bluefin tuna, the yellowfin tuna, the albacore tuna, the bigeye tuna, and the skipjack tuna. (Source: GreenFacts)



A type of ecosystem dominated by lichens, mosses, grasses, and woody plants.

Tundra is found at high latitudes (arctic tundra) and high altitudes (alpine tundra).

Arctic tundra is underlain by permafrost and is usually [water] saturated. (Source: ACIA  Glossary )


Ultraviolet radiation

Electromagnetic radiation of shorter wavelength than visible light but of longer wavelenght than x-rays, i.e. ranging from approximately 400 nm to 100 nm.

The most common source of ultraviolet radiation is the sun, but it can also be produced artificially by UV lamps.

UV radiation is divided into three bands: UVA, UVB, and UVC. All three bands are classified as a probable human carcinogen.

UVA – Long-wavelength UVA covers the range 315–400 nm. Not significantly filtered by the atmosphere. Approximately 90% of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface. UVA is again divided into UVA-I (340 nm - 400 nm) and UVA-II (315 nm - 340 nm).

UVB – Medium-wavelength UVB covers the range 280–315 nm. Approximately 10% of UV radiation reaching the Earth’s surface.

UVC – Short-wavelength UVC covers the range 100–280 nm. All solar UVC radiation is absorbed by the ozone layer. (Source: GreenFacts based on WHO  Artificial tanning sunbeds: risks and guidance )



"The mission of GRID-Arendal is to provide environmental information, communications and capacity building services for information management and assessment. Established to strengthen the United Nations through its Environment Programme (UNEP), our focus is to make credible, science-based knowledge understandable to the public and to decision-making for sustainable development.

GRID-Arendal provides analysis and supports communication on issues such as climate change, environment and poverty, environment and security, the urban environment and sustainable development through education." (Source: UNEP/GRID-Arendal website )


Defined by Webster to be the quality of a thing according to which it is thought of as being more or less desirable, useful, estimable or important.

Using this definition the value of an ecosystem might be defined in terms of its beauty, its uniqueness, its irreplacability, its contribution to life support functions or commercial or recreational opportunities, or its role in supporting wildlife or reducing environmental or human health risks, or providing many other services that benefit humans. (Source: Ecosystem Valuation Definition of Terms  )



A virus is a small organism which can infect other biological organisms.

Viruses can only reproduce by invading and taking over cells as they lack the cellular machinery for self reproduction.

They cause diseases in human beings, animals, plants and bacteria.

Examples of human diseases caused by viruses include the common cold, influenza, small pox, AIDS, and cold sores. (Source: GreenFacts)


Vulnerability (in ecosystems)

Exposure to contingencies and stress, and the difficulty in coping with them. (Source: Millennium Ecosystem Assessment  Glossary )


Water stress

Water stress occurs when the demand for water exceeds the available amount during a certain period or when poor quality restricts its use.

Water stress causes deterioration of fresh water resources in terms of quantity (aquifer over-exploitation, dry rivers, etc.) and quality (eutrophication, organic matter pollution, saline intrusion, etc.) (Source: UNEP Freshwater in Europe Glossary  )

World Wide Fund for Nature

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) was founded in 1961 (formerly known as the World Wildlife Fund) and today is the world's largest conservation organization.

"WWF's mission is to stop the degradation of the planet's natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by:

  • conserving the world's biological diversity
  • .
  • resources is sustainable
  • promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption."

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