This is a glossary of environmental science.
Environmental science is the study of interactions among physical, chemical, and biological components
of the environment. Environmental science provides an integrated, quantitative, and
interdisciplinary approach to the study of environmental systems.==0-9==
1-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.==A==
abiotic – non-living chemical and physical factors of the environment (see also biotic).
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. absorption – one substance taking in another,
either physically or chemically. 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 – rain or other forms of precipitation
that is unusually acidic. 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.
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. aerosols – solid or liquid particles suspended
within the atmosphere. affluenza – as defined in the book of the
same name 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 new forests on lands that have not been recently forested.
agroforestry – (sustainability) an ecologically based farming system, that, through the integration
of trees in farms, increases social, environmental and economic benefits to land users.
air pollution – the modification of the natural characteristics of the atmosphere by a chemical,
particulate matter, or biological agent. albedo – reflectance; 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. 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 fuels – fuels like ethanol and
compressed natural gas that produce fewer emissions than the traditional fossil fuels.
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). anaerobic – not requiring air or oxygen; used
in reference to decomposition processes that occur in the absence of oxygen.
ancient forest – see old growth forest. anoxic – – with abnormally low levels of oxygen.
anthropogenic – man-made, not natural. 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.
appropriated carrying capacity – another name for the Ecological Footprint, but often used
in referring to the imported ecological capacity of goods from overseas.
aquaculture – the cultivation of aquatic organisms under controlled conditions.
aquifer – a bed or layer yielding water for wells and springs etc.; an underground
geological formation capable of receiving, storing and transmitting large quantities
of water. Aquifer types include: confined (sealed and possibly containing “fossil”
water); unconfined (capable of receiving inflow); and Artesian (an aquifer in which the hydraulic
pressure will cause the water to rise above the upper confining layer).
arable land – land that can be used for growing crops.
atmosphere – general name for the layer of gases around a material body; the Earth’s
atmosphere consists, from the ground up, of the troposphere (which includes the planetary
boundary layer or peplosphere, the lowest layer), stratosphere, mesosphere, ionosphere
(or thermosphere), exosphere and magnetosphere. autotroph – an organism that produces complex
organic compounds from simple inorganic molecules using energy from light or inorganic chemical
reactions. 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).==B==
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. best practice – a process, or innovative use
of technology, equipment or resources or other measurable factors that have a proven record
of success. 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 – capable of being decomposed
through the action of organisms, especially bacteria.
biodiversity – the variety of life in all its forms, levels and combinations; includes
ecosystem diversity, species diversity, and genetic diversity.
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 – the fuel produced by the chemical and/or biological processing of biomass. Biofuel
will either be a solid (e.g. charcoal), liquid (e.g. ethanol) or gas (e.g. methane).
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 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.
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 – the materials derived from photosynthesis (fossilised materials may or may not be included)
such as forest, agricultural crops, wood and wood wastes, animal wastes, livestock operation
residues, aquatic plants, and municipal and industrial wastes; the quantity of organic
material present in unit area at a particular time mostly expressed as tons of dry matter
per unit area; organic matter that can be 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 – the part of the Earth, including air, land, surface rocks, and water, within
which life occurs, and which biotic processes in turn alter or transform.
biosphere – the zone of air, land and water at the surface of the earth that is occupied
by living organisms; the combination of all ecosystems on Earth and maintained by the
energy of the Sun; the interface between the hydrosphere, geosphere and atmosphere.
biotic potential – the maximum reproductive capacity of a population under optimum environmental
conditions. biotic – relating to, produced by, or caused
by living organisms. (see also abiotic). birth rate – number of people born as a percentage
of the total population in any given period of time; number of live births per 1000 people.
blackwater – household wastewater that contains solid waste i.e. toilet discharge.
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; cold temperate Northern
Hemisphere forests that grow where there is a mean annual temperatureto be extended to cover the construction industry,
the food and beverage sector and other corporations or organisations. The water offset calculators
aimed at business and other organisations are being developed and will be launched with
the Individual Water Offset Calculator. water productivity – the efficiency of outcomes
for the amount of water used; the quantity of water required to produce a given outcome.
WP-field relates to crop output e.g. kg of wheat produced per m3 of water. WP-basin relates
to water productivity in the widest possible sense as including crop, fishery yield, environmental
services etc. Increasing WP means obtaining increasing value from the available water.
water quality – the microbiological, biological, physical and chemical characteristics of water.
water resources – water in various forms, such as groundwater, surface water, snow and
ice, at present in the land phase of the hydrological cycle—some parts may be renewable seasonally,
but others may be effectively mined. water restrictions – mandatory staged restrictions
on the use of water, which are relative to water storage levels.
water trading – transactions involving water access entitlements or water allocations assigned
to water access entitlements. water treatment – the process of converting
raw untreated water to a public water supply safe for human consumption; can involve, variously,
screening, initial disinfection, clarification, filtration, pH correction and final disinfection.
water table – upper level of water in saturated ground.
watershed – a water catchment area (North America) or drainage divide (non-American
usage). weather – the hourly/daily change in atmospheric
conditions which over a longer period constitute the climate of a region cf. climate.
weathering – is the breaking down of rocks, soil, and minerals as well as wood and artificial
materials through contact with the Earth’s atmosphere, water, and biological organisms.
well-being – a context-dependent physical and mental condition determined by the presence
of basic material for a good life, freedom and choice, health, good social relations,
and security. wetlands – areas of permanent or intermittent
inundation, whether natural or artificial, with water that is static or flowing, fresh,
brackish or salt, including areas of marine water not exceeding 6 m at low tide. (Adapted
from definition of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance). Engineered
wetlands are becoming more frequent and are sometimes called constructed wetlands. In
urban areas wetlands are sometimes referred to as the kidney of a city.
whitegoods – household electrical appliances like refrigerators, washing machines, clothes
dryers, and dishwashers. wind energy – the kinetic energy present in
the motion of the wind. Wind energy can be converted to mechanical or electrical energy.
A traditional mechanical windmill can be used for pumping water or grinding grain. A modern
electrical wind turbine converts the force of the wind to electrical energy for consumption
on-site and/or export to the electricity grid. wind turbines – see wind energy.
work – physical or mental effort; a force exerted for a distance; an energy transformation
process which results in a change of concentration or form of energy.==Z==
zero waste – turning waste into resource; the redesign of resource-use so that waste
can ultimately be reduced to zero; ensuring that by-products are used elsewhere and goods
are recycled, in emulation of the cycling of wastes in nature.==See also==
Environmental science Climate change acronyms
Glossary of climate change List of environmental issues
List of sustainability topics