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Volume 28
Number 2
Summer 2011
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Sidebar thumbnail image Glossary: Climate change–related terms

By Patrick Gonzalez
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
  Glossary: Climate change–related terms
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Glossary: Climate change–related terms

Climate—The mean state of the atmosphere over a long period of time. This pe­riod is generally at least 30 years, to produce a statistically significant sample and to avoid shorter term variability. The principal elements of climate are the same as the principal elements of weather (IPCC 2007a).

Climate change—Alteration in the mean state of the atmosphere over a long period of time that can be detected statistically. Climate change consists of trends in the mean and the variability of climate that persist for an extended period, typically decades or longer. Climate change may be due to natural internal processes, natural external forcings, or persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use (IPCC 2007a).

Climate variability—Variations in the mean state of the atmosphere on all spatial and temporal scales beyond the scales of individual weather events. Climate variability may be due to natural internal processes within the climate system (internal variability) or to variations in natural or anthropogenic external forcing (external variability). Major forms of interdecadal variability, which are often cyclical, include the El Niño–Southern Oscillation and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (IPCC 2007a).

Global warming—A long-term increase in the average surface temperature of the world that constitutes the major form of climate change.

Radiative forcing—Change in the net radiation flow at the top of the troposphere (about 6–10 km [4–6 mi] altitude), with positive values indicating increased heat toward the surface of Earth (IPCC 2007a). Changes in greenhouse gases, ozone, other atmospheric constituents, airplane contrails, the reflectivity of the earth, and the output of the sun contribute to radiative forcing. Radiative forcing from 1750 to 2005 was +1.6 watts per square meter [+0.8, −1.0 watts per square meter], causing the warming detected around the world (IPCC 2007a). Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, motor vehicles, deforestation, and other human activities have caused 93% of the radiative forcing (IPCC 2007a).

Weather—The state of the atmosphere at a point in time. Principal elements of weather include temperature, precipitation, wind, air pressure, and humidity (U.S. National Weather Service,

—Patrick Gonzalez

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This page updated:  4 November 2011

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From the Editor
Information Crossfile
Masthead Information
Special Issue: Climate Change Science in the National Parks
Climate change impacts and carbon in U.S. national parks
  Glossary: Climate change–related terms
Pikas in Peril: Multiregional vulnerability assessment of a climate-sensitive sentinel species
Pika monitoring under way in four western parks: The development of a collaborative multipark protocol
Climate change science in Everglades National Park
Sea-level rise: Observations, impacts, and proactive measures in Everglades National Park
Landscape response to climate change and its role in infrastructure protection and management at Mount Rainier National Park
Glacier trends and response to climate in Denali National Park and Preserve
Climate change, management decisions, and the visitor experience: The role of social science research
Conserving pinnipeds in Pacific Ocean parks in response to climate change
The George Melendez Wright Climate Change Fellowship Program: Promoting innovative park science for resource management
Estimating and mitigating the impacts of climate change and air pollution on alpine plant communities in national parks
Parks use phenology to improve management and communicate climate change
Standards and tools for using phenology in science, management, and education
Hummingbird monitoring in Colorado Plateau parks
Paper birch: Sentinels of climate change in the Niobrara River Valley, Nebraska
Climate change in Great Basin National Park: Lake sediment and sensor-based studies
Long-term change in perennial vegetation along the Colorado River in Grand Canyon National Park (1889–2010)
The distribution and abundance of a nuisance native alga, Didymosphenia geminata, in streams of Glacier National Park
Monitoring direct and indirect climate effects on whitebark pine ecosystems at Crater Lake National Park
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