IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

Glossary A-D

Acclimatisation The physiological adaptation to climatic variations.

Active layer The top layer of soil or rock in permafrost that is subjected to seasonal freezing and thawing.

Adaptability See adaptive capacity.

Adaptation Adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or their effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Various types of adaptation can be distinguished, including anticipatory, autonomous and planned adaptation:
Anticipatory adaptation – Adaptation that takes place before impacts of climate change are observed. Also referred to as proactive adaptation.
Autonomous adaptation – Adaptation that does not constitute a conscious response to climatic stimuli but is triggered by ecological changes in natural systems and by market orwelfare changes in human systems. Also referred to as spontaneous adaptation.
Planned adaptation – Adaptation that is the result of a deliberate policy decision, based on an awareness that conditions have changed or are about to change and that action is required to return to, maintain, or achieve a desired state.

Adaptation assessment The practice of identifying options to adapt to climate changeand evaluating them in terms of criteria such as availability, benefits, costs, effectiveness, efficiency and feasibility.

Adaptation benefits The avoided damage costs or the accrued benefits following the adoption and implementation of adaptation measures.

Adaptation costs Costs of planning, preparing for, facilitating, and implementingadaptation measures, including transition costs.

Adaptive capacity (in relation to climate change impacts) The ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences.

Aerosols A collection of air-borne solid or liquid particles, with a typical size between 0.01 and 10 µm, that reside in the atmosphere for at least several hours. Aerosols may be of either natural or anthropogenic origin. Aerosols may influence climate in two ways: directly through scattering and absorbing radiation, and indirectly through acting as condensation nuclei for cloud formation or modifying the optical properties and lifetime of clouds.

Afforestation Direct human-induced conversion of land that has not been forested for a period of at least 50 years to forested land through planting, seeding and/or the human-induced promotion of natural seed sources. See also reforestation and deforestation. For a discussion of the term forest and related terms such as afforestation, reforestation and deforestation, see the IPCC Special Report on Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry (IPCC,2000).

Aggregate impacts Total impacts integrated across sectors and/or regions. The aggregation of impacts requires knowledge of (or assumptions about) the relative importance of impacts in different sectors and regions. Measures of aggregate impacts include, for example, the total number of people affected, or the total economic costs.

Albedo The fraction of solar radiation reflected by a surface or object, often expressed as a percentage. Snow-covered surfaces have a high albedo; the albedo of soils ranges from high to low; vegetation-covered surfaces and oceans have a low albedo. The Earth’s albedo varies mainly through varying cloudiness, snow ,ice, leaf area, and land-cover changes.

Algae Photosynthetic, often microscopic and planktonic, organisms occurring in marine and freshwater ecosystems.

Algal bloom A reproductive explosion of algae in a lake, river or ocean.

Alpine The biogeographic zone made up of slopes above the tree line characterised by the presence of rosette-forming herbaceous plants and low, shrubby, slow-growing woody plants.

Anthropogenic Resulting from or produced by human beings.

AOGCM See climate model.

Aquaculture The managed cultivation of aquatic plants or animals such as salmon or shellfish held in captivity for the purpose of harvesting.

Aquifer A stratum of permeable rock that bears water. An unconfined aquifer is recharged directly by local rainfall, rivers and lakes, and the rate of recharge will be influenced by the permeability of the overlying rocks and soils.

Aragonite A calcium carbonate (limestone) mineral, used by shell- or skeleton-forming, calcifying organisms such as corals(warm-and cold-water corals), some macroalgae, pteropods (marine snails) and non-pteropod molluscs such as bivalves (e.g., clams, oysters), cephalopods (e.g., squids, octopuses). Aragonite is more sensitive to ocean acidification than calcite, also used by many marine organisms. See also calcite and ocean acidification.

Arbovirus Any of various viruses transmitted by blood-sucking arthropods (e.g., mosquitoes, ticks, etc.) and including the causative agents of dengue fever, yellow fever, and some types of encephalitis.

Arid region A land region of low rainfall, where ‘low’ is widely accepted to be <250 mm precipitation per year.

Atmosphere The gaseous envelope surrounding the Earth. The dry atmosphere consists almost entirely of nitrogen and oxygen, together with trace gases including carbon dioxide and ozone.

Attribution See Detection and attribution.

Baseline/reference The baseline (or reference) is the state against which change is measured. It might be a ‘current baseline’, in which case it represents observable, present-day conditions. It might also be a ‘future baseline’, which is a projected future set of conditions excluding the driving factor of interest. Alternative interpretations of the reference conditions can give rise to multiple baselines.

Basin The drainage area of a stream, river or lake.

Benthic community The community of organisms living on or near the bottom of a water body such as a river, a lake or an ocean.

Biodiversity The total diversity of all organisms and ecosystems at various spatial scales (from genes to entire biomes).

Biofuel A fuel produced from organic matter or combustible oils produced by plants. Examples of biofuel include alcohol, black liquor from the paper-manufacturing process, wood, and soybean oil.

Biomass The total mass of living organisms in a given area or volume; recently dead plant material is often included as dead biomass. The quantity of biomass is expressed as a dry weight or as the energy, carbon or nitrogen content.

Biome Major and distinct regional element of the biosphere, typically consisting of several ecosystems (e.g., forests, rivers, ponds, swamps) within a region of similar climate. Biomes are characterised by typical communities of plants and animals.

Biosphere The part of the Earth system comprising all ecosystems and living organisms in the atmosphere, on land (terrestrial biosphere), or in the oceans (marine biosphere), including derived dead organic matter, such as litter, soil organic matter, and oceanic detritus.

Biota All living organisms of an area; the flora and fauna considered as a unit.

Bog Peat-accumulating acidic wetland.

Boreal forest Forests of pine, spruce, fir and larch stretching from the east coast of Canada westward to Alaska and continuing from Siberia westward across the entire extent of Russia to the European Plain. The climate is continental, with long, very cold winters (up to 6 months with mean temperatures below freezing), and short, cool summers (50 to 100 frost-free days). Precipitation increases during summer months, although annual precipitation is still small. Low evaporation rates can make this a humid climate. See taiga.

Breakwater A hard engineering structure built in the sea which, by breaking waves, protects a harbour, anchorage, beach or shore area. A breakwater can be attached to the coast or lie offshore.

C3 plants Plants that produce a three-carbon compound during photosynthesis, including most trees and agricultural crops such as rice, wheat, soybeans, potatoes and vegetables.

C4 plants Plants, mainly of tropical origin, that produce a four-carbon compound during photosynthesis, including many grasses and the agriculturally important crops maize, sugar cane, millet and sorghum.

Calcareous organisms A large and diverse group of organisms, many marine, that use calcite or aragonite to form shells or skeletons. See calcite, aragonite and ocean acidification.

Calcite A calcium carbonate (limestone) mineral, used by shell- or skeleton-forming, calcifying organisms such as foraminifera,some macroalgae, lobsters, crabs, sea urchins and starfish. Calcite is less sensitive to ocean acidification thanaragonite, also used by many marine organisms. See also aragonite and ocean acidification.

Capacity building In the context of climate change, capacity building is developing the technical skills and institutional capabilities in developing countries and economies in transition to enable their participation in all aspects of adaptation to, mitigation of, and research on climate change, and in the implementation of the Kyoto Mechanisms, etc.

Carbon cycle The term used to describe the flow of carbon (in various forms, e.g., carbon dioxide) through the atmosphere, ocean, terrestrial biosphere and lithosphere.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) A naturally occurring gas fixed by photosynthesis into organic matter. A by-product of fossil fuel combustion and biomass burning, it is also emitted from land-use changes and other industrial processes. It is the principal anthropogenic greenhouse gas that affects the Earth’s radiative balance. It is the reference gas against which other greenhouse gases are measured, thus having a Global Warming Potential of 1.

Carbon dioxide fertilisation The stimulation of plant photosynthesis due to elevated CO2concentrations, leading to either enhanced productivity and/or efficiency of primary production. In general, C3 plants show a larger response to elevated CO2 than C4 plants.

Carbon sequestration The process of increasing the carbon content of a reservoir/pool other than the atmosphere.

Catchment An area that collects and drains rainwater.

CDM (Clean Development Mechanism) The CDM allows greenhouse gas emission reduction projects to take place in countries that have no emission targets under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Kyoto Protocol, yet are signatories.

Chagas’disease A parasitic disease caused by the Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by triatomine bugs in the Americas, with two clinical periods: acute (fever, swelling of the spleen, oedemas) and chronic (digestive syndrome, potentially fatal heart condition).

Cholera A water-borne intestinal infection caused by a bacterium (Vibrio cholerae) that results in frequent watery stools, cramping abdominal pain, and eventual collapse from dehydration and shock.

Climate Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the ‘average weather’, or more rigorously, as the statistical description interms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system. The classical period of time is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Climate change Climate change refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. This usage differs from that in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which defines ‘climate change’ as: ‘a 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’. See also climate variability.

Climate change commitment Due to the thermal inertia of the ocean and slow processes in the biosphere, the cryosphere and land surfaces, the climate would continue to change even if the atmospheric composition was held fixed at today’s values. Past change in atmospheric composition leads to a ‘committed’ climate change which continues for as long as a radiative imbalance persists and until all components of the climate system have adjusted to a new state. The further change in temperature after the composition of the atmosphere is held constant is referred to as the committed warming or warming commitment. Climate change commitment includes other future changes, for example in the hydrological cycle, in extreme weather events, and in sea-level rise.

Climate model A numerical representation of the climate system based on the physical, chemical, and biological properties of its components,their interactions and feedback processes, and accounting for all or some of its known properties. The climate system can be represented by models of varying complexity (i.e., for any one component or combination of components a hierarchy of models can be identified, differing in such aspects as the number of spatial dimensions, the extent to which physical, chemical, or biological processes are explicitly represented, or the level at which empirical parameterisations are involved. Coupled atmosphere/ocean/sea-ice General Circulation Models (AOGCMs) provide a comprehensive representation of the climate system. More complex models include active chemistry and biology. Climate models are applied, as a research tool, to study and simulate the climate, but also for operational purposes, including monthly, seasonal, and interannual climate predictions.

Climate prediction A climate prediction or climate forecast is the result of an attempt to produce an estimate of the actual evolution of the climate in the future, e.g., at seasonal, interannual or long-term time scales. See also climate projection and climate (change) scenario.

Climate projection The calculated response of the climate system to emissions or concentration scenarios of greenhouse gases and aerosols, or radiative forcing scenarios, often based on simulations by climate models. Climate projections are distinguished from climate predictions, in that the former critically depend on the emissions/concentration/radiative forcing scenario used, and therefore on highly uncertain assumptions of future socio-economic and technological development.

Climate (change) scenario A plausible and often simplified representation of the future climate, based on an internally consistent set of climatological relationships and assumptions of radiative forcing, typically constructed for explicit use as input to climate change impact models. A ‘climate change scenario’ is the difference between a climate scenario and the current climate.

Climate sensitivity The equilibrium temperature rise that would occur for a doubling of CO2 concentration above pre-industrial levels.

Climate system The climate system is defined by the dynamics and interactions of five major components: atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, land surface, and biosphere. Climate system dynamics are driven by both internal and external forcing, such as volcanic eruptions, solar variations, or human-induced modifications to the planetary radiative balance, for instance via anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases and/or land-use changes.

Climate threshold The point at which external forcing of the climate system, such as the increasing atmospheric concentration of greenhouse gases, triggers a significant climatic or environmental event which is considered unalterable, or recoverable only on very long times-cales, such as widespread bleaching of corals or a collapse of oceanic circulation systems.

Climate variability Climate variability refers to variations in the mean state and other statistics (such as standard deviations, statistics of extremes, etc.) of the climate on all temporal and spatial scales beyond that of individual weather events. 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). See also climate change.

CO2 fertilisation See carbon dioxide fertilisation.

Coastal squeeze The squeeze of coastal ecosystems (e.g., salt marshes, mangroves and mud and sand flats) between rising sea levels and naturally or artificially fixed shorelines, including hard engineering defences (see Chapter 6).

Coccolithophores Single-celled microscopic phytoplankton algae which construct shell-like structures from calcite (a form of calcium carbonate). See also calcite and ocean acidification.

Committed to extinction This term describes a species with dwindling population that is in the process of inescapably becoming extinct in the absence of human intervention. See also extinction.

Communicable disease An infectious disease caused by transmission of an infective biological agent (virus, bacterium, protozoan, or multicellular macroparasite).

Confidence In this Report, the level of confidence in a statement is expressed using a standard terminology defined in the Introduction. See also uncertainty.

Control run A model run carried out to provide a ‘baseline’ for comparison with climate-change experiments. The control run uses constant values for the radiative forcing due to greenhouse gases and anthropogenic aerosols appropriate to pre-industrial conditions.

Coral The term ‘coral’ has several meanings, but is usually the common name for the Order Scleractinia, all members of which have hard limestone skeletons, and which are divided into reef-building and non-reef-building, or cold- and warm-water corals.

Coral bleaching The paling in colour which results if a coral loses its symbiotic, energy-providing, organisms.

Coral reefs Rock-like limestone (calcium carbonate) structures built by corals along ocean coasts (fringing reefs) or on top of shallow, submerged banks or shelves (barrier reefs, atolls), most conspicuous in tropical and sub-tropical oceans.

Cryosphere The component of the climate system consisting of all snow and ice (including permafrost) on and beneath the surface of the Earth and ocean.

Cryptogams An outdated but still-used term, denoting a group of diverse and taxonomically unrelated organisms, including fungi and lower plants such as algae, lichens, hornworts, liverworts, mosses and ferns.

Deforestation Natural or anthropogenic process that converts forest land to non-forest. See afforestation and reforestation.

Dengue fever An infectious viral disease spread by mosquitoes, often called breakbone fever because it is characterised by severe pain in the joints and back. Subsequent infections of the virus may lead to dengue haemorrhagic fever (DHF) and dengue shock syndrome (DSS), which may be fatal.

Desert A region of very low rainfall, where ‘very low’ is widely accepted to be <100 mm per year.

Desertification Land degradation in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Further, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) defines land degradation as a reduction or loss in arid, semi-arid, and dry sub-humid areas of the biological or economic productivity and complexity of rainfed cropland, irrigated cropland, or range, pasture, forest and woodlands resulting from land uses or from a process or combination of processes, including those arising from human activities and habitation patterns, such as: (i) soil erosion caused by wind and/or water; (ii) deterioration of the physical, chemical, and biological or economic properties of soil; and (iii) long-term loss of natural vegetation.

Detection and attribution Detection of change in a system (natural or human) is the process of demonstrating that the system has changed in some defined statistical sense, without providing a reason for that change.
Attribution of such an observed change in a system to anthropogenic climate change is usually a two-stage process. First, the observed change in the system must be demonstrated to be associated with an observed regional climate change with a specified degree of confidence. Second, a measurable portion of the observed regional climate change, or the associated observed change in the system, must be attributed to anthropogenic climate forcing with a similar degree of confidence. Confidence in such joint attribution statements must be lower than the confidence in either of the individual attribution steps alone due to the combination of two separate statistical assessments.

Diadromous Fish that travel between salt water and freshwater.

Discount rate The degree to which consumption now is preferred to consumption one year hence, with prices held constant, but average incomes rising in line with GDP per capita.

Disturbance regime Frequency, intensity, and types of disturbances, such as fires, insect or pest outbreaks, floods and droughts.

Downscaling A method that derives local- to regional-scale (10 to 100 km ) information from larger-scale models or data analyses.

Drought The phenomenon that exists when precipitation is significantly below normal recorded levels, causing serious hydrological imbalances that often adversely affect land resources and production systems.

Dyke A human-made wall or embankment along a shore to prevent flooding of low-lying land.

Dynamic global vegetation model (DGVM) Models that simulate vegetation development and dynamics through space and time, as driven by climate and other environmental changes.