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Acid Rain

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What's albedo? Carbon footprint... whose?? When you need to know the meaning of an environmental term, the EnvirQ Glossary is the place to look! Regularly evolving with fresh terms, including those requested by our readers...

The Environmental Glossary

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Acid rain: is rain or any other form of precipitation that is acidic in nature. It is caused when emissions of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides react with the atmosphere and transforms into sulphuric acid, ammonium nitrate and nitric acid which causes acid rain. It has harmful effects on humans, plant animal and aquatic life as well as infrastructure.

Afforestation: is the planting of trees or seeds on land which is otherwise not occupied for the purpose of building a forest.

Albedo: is the extent to which a surface can reflect the light from the Sun. It is defined as the ratio of diffusely reflected to incident electromagnetic radiation. The word is derived from the Latin word albus which means “white”.

Bio-fuels: also known as biogas from green waste which maybe be used as fuel. It can be solid, liquid or gaseous fuel from lifeless or living biological material.

Basket of Gasses: refers to the group six of greenhouse gases which are regulated under the Kyoto Protocol. They are listed in Annex A of the Kyoto Protocol and include: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

Carbon footprint: is "the total set of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions caused directly and indirectly by an individual, organization, event or product" (UK Carbon Trust 2008). An individual, nation, or organisation's carbon footprint is measured by undertaking a greenhouse gas emissions assessment. Once the size of a carbon footprint is known, a strategy can be devised to reduce it.

Carbon Credits: are key components of national and international attempts to moderate the growth of greenhouse gases. One carbon credit is equal to one ton of carbon. There are two types of Carbon Credits; 1) Carbon Offset Credits (COC's) which consists of all clean forms of energy production, wind, solar, hydro and bio-fuels. 2) Carbon Reduction Credits (CRC's) consists of the collection and storage of Carbon from our atmosphere through reforestation, forestation, ocean and soil collection and storage efforts. Both approaches are recognized as effective ways to reduce the Global Carbon Emissions crises.

Conservation: is any form of work which helps in the protection of the environment or the ecosystem. Conservation of wildlife and rainforests are the major forms nowadays.

CO2 levels: is the amount of Carbon dioxide (chemical formula: CO2) present on the earths atmosphere, co2 is a chemical compound composed of two atoms of oxygen and a single atom of carbon. The current level of co2 in the atmosphere is 387 parts per million (ppm) this amount has to be cut down to 350 ppm which is considered as the safe level.

Carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e): describes the amount of global warming a perticular type of greenhouse gas may cause, using the functionally equivalent amount or concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) as the reference.

Carbon neutral: is the process of having a net zero carbon footprint which means achieving net zero carbon emissions by reducing the amount of carbon released by you and by purchasing carbon offset. You can purchase these offsets or carbon credits and apply them to your own emissions to reduce your net climate impact. Recycling paper is an easy way to become carbon neutral also using solar power to light your house.

Carbon offsetting: aims at removing a certain amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to make up for the amount that is being added to the atmosphere everyday. One carbon offset represents the reduction of one metric ton of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases. For example wind farms, solar installations, or energy efficiency retrofits.

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): also known as Freon are non-toxic, non-flammable and non-carcinogenic which mostly contain; fluorine atoms, carbon atoms and chlorine atoms. The 5 main CFCs include CFC-11 (trichlorofluoromethane - CFCl3), CFC-12 (dichloro-difluoromethane - CF2Cl2), CFC-113 (trichloro-trifluoroethane - C2F3Cl3), CFC-114 (dichloro-tetrfluoroethane - C2F4Cl2), and CFC-115 (chloropentafluoroethane - C2F5Cl). Man-made CFC’s are also responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer. They are used in most households as cooling agents in refrigerators and air conditioners also in some cleaning products and as propellants in aerosols.

Deforestation: is the cutting down of trees in the forested areas. This removal of trees has resulted in damage to habitat, biodiversity loss and aridity. Deforested regions often degrade into wasteland. It is also done because trees can be sold as a commodity which is used by humans and the area maybe used for pasture, plantations of commodities and human settlement.

Ecosystems: is a natural habitat consisting of all independent organisms like plants, animals and micro-organisms functioning together with all other physical factors of the environment.

Emissions trading: see Carbon Credits.

EPA’s Energy Star: is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy which helps by producing energy efficient products and practices which leads to environmental protection.

Extinction: is the death of every member of a species. Actual extinction takes place when the last remaining member of a species ceases to exist.

Fossil fuels: or mineral fuels are fuels formed the natural resources such as anaerobic decomposition of buried dead organisms that lived 300 million years ago. These fuels contain high percentage of carbon and hydrocarbons.

Genetic Modification (GM): genetic manipulation (GM) and genetic engineering (GE) all mean the same thing; with the help of modern day biotechnology techniques to change the genes of an organism, such as a plant or animal. A genetically modified organism (GMO) is a plant, animal or other organism that has been changed using genetic modification.

Global warming: is the increase in average temperature of the Earth and rise in sea water levels caused by increasing greenhouse gas emissions resulting from human activity such as fossil fuel burning, deforestation etc.

Global Warming Potential (GWP): are those gases which could be potentially more harmful than CO2 in terms of their capabilities to trap heat in the atmosphere. Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) are some of these gases. They remain in the atmosphere almost indefinitely and concentrations of these gases will increase as long as emissions continue.

Greenhouse Gases: are the gases that trap the heat from the suns rays making the earth 33 degrees Celsius warmer than it would be without these gases in the atmosphere. The most common greenhouse gases present in the atmosphere are water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

Green energy: refers to the sources of energy that are considered as environmentally friendly. For example geothermal, wind, solar, hydro and sometimes nuclear power are all sources of green energy. These forms of energy have no or lower carbon emissions and create less pollution.

Greenhouse effect: refers to the rise in temperature that a planet experiences due to the presence of greenhouse gases, which include water vapor, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane that trap the sun’s energy within the atmosphere, without which these gases would escape back into space and the temperature on Earth would be much cooler.

Green waste: is biodegradable waste that can be composed of kitchen garden or park waste, such as grass or flower cuttings and hedge trimmings, as well as domestic and commercial food waste.

Hybrids: are vehicles that combine an internal combustion engine along with an electric motor as the power source. It is an alternative to both normal fuel guzzling cars and electric ones. The advantages are quick refills (and the IC engine also recharges the batteries in some vehicles) and greater milage, besides the reduced emmissions.

Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): are man-made colourless and odourless chemicals which contain element fluorine which are now being used in place of ozone damaging CFCs in refrigerators and air conditioners. These gases cause global warming and are considered more harmful then CO2. In other words they are ozone friendly but not climate friendly.

Incineration: A treatment technology involving destruction of waste by controlled burning at high temperatures; e.g., burning sludge to remove the water and reduce the remaining residues to a safe, non-burnable ash that can be disposed of safely on land, in some waters, or in underground locations.

Incineration at Sea: Disposal of waste by burning at sea on specially-designed incinerator ships.

Joint and Several Liability: Under CERCLA, this legal concept relates to the liability for Superfund site cleanup and other costs on the part of more than one potentially responsible party (i.e. if there were several owners or users of a site that became contaminated over the years, they could all be considered potentially liable for cleaning up the site.)

Kyoto protocol: is an international agreement formed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or FCCC). The main aim of the protocol is to set a target for thirty seven industrial countries which have committed to the agreement to reduce the collective amount of greenhouse gases that go into the atmosphere.

Litter: Waste that is improperly disposed of on the street, sidewalk, lakes and other bodies of water, and in the general environment.

Low-Flow: Description for water-using products that require less water per use. The two most common examples are low-flow showers and low-flow toilets.

Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF): is a sector that provides a cost efficient way of offsetting emissions and removing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by ways of activities like planting trees and forest management or by reducing emissions.

Mercury: Metal with the atomic symbol Hg, commonly found in thermometers, electronics switches and other devices. It is toxic to humans if inhaled or ingested, and (similar to mercury are improperly disposed of. Municipal Solid Waste — Term for solid waste generated by households, commercial establishments, industrial offices or lunchrooms not regulated as a residual or hazardous waste. It constitutes anything thrown in a garbage can that will end up in a landfill, regardless of whether it is eligible for recycling or reuse. This does not include source-separated recyclables.

Montreal Protocol: A successful agreement made under the auspices of the United Nation in 1987 to phase out production and release of substances that are responsible for the destruction of the ozone layer, particularly by avoiding Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other ozone depleting substances. An amendment to the protocol was made in 1992 and signed by 93 nations including India and China agreeing to eliminate the use of CFCs, carbon tetrachloride and halogens by 2000 and methyl chloroform by 2005.

Natural Selection: is an essential component of the evolutionary process; selection in nature of organisms with such heritable characters (with required genetic changes brought forward by mutation) that enable them to adjust to changed conditions imposed by nature, and elimination of those who cannot.

Niche: is a place of special habitat within an ecosystem that supplies the necessary factors for the existence of an organism or species.

Non-Renewable Resource: A resource that is not capable of being naturally restored or replenished and is thus in limited supply. It is most commonly used to describe energy sources such as coal and oil. The use of these materials and energy sources leads to depletion of the Earth’s reserves and are characterized as such as they do not renew in human relevant periods (They are not being replenished or formed at any significant rate on a human time scale).

Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC): A potential source of generation of power (electricity) utilising the large difference in the temperature of upper and lower layers of a tropical ocean water. This method is yet to become commercially viable.

Organic farming: is a form of agriculture that relies solely on eco-friendly cultivation. Which does not allow the use of any harmful synthetic pesticides and fertilizers; plant growth regulators, livestock feed additives, and genetically modified organisms.

Ozone depletion: is the thinning of the ozone layer, which otherwise protects us from the harmful ultraviolet rays of the sun. This depletion is caused due to the presence of chlorine-containing source gases (primarily chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) compounds and related halocarbons). In the presence of UV light, these gases dissociate, releasing chlorine atoms, which then go on to catalyze ozone destruction.

Ozone Depleting Substance (ODS): are those substances that are responsible for the depletion of the ozone layer and are used in air conditioners, refrigerators, fire extinguishers, as solvents for cleaning etc. Substances like Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), Carbon tetrachloride, Methyl chloroform, Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs), Hydrobromofluorocarbons (HBFCs), Bromochloromethane (BCM) are all considered ozone depleting substance.

Ozone layer: is the layer in the earth’s atmosphere, located in the lower part of the stratosphere. It contains high levels of ozone and helps by absorbing approximately 93.99 percent of the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays.

Parts per million (ppm)/ parts per billion (ppb): is a form of expressing the amount of contaminants. One ppm/ppb is 1 part in 1 million/billion or the value is equivalent to the absolute fractional amount multiplied by one million/billion.

Photochemical Smog: is attributed to the photochemical action of ultraviolet rays in sunlight on unburnt hydrocarbon and oxides of nitrogen in the exhaust fumes and smoke of cars and engines, producing smog with traces of toxic ozone gas.

Pollution: is the introduction of any contaminants into the environment which may have adverse effects on the eco-system. Pollution can be in the form of vehicular smoke, chemical and waste substances or from energy sources like noise, light or heat energy.

Polluter Pays Principle (PPP): is an environmental policy which requires the polluters to pay a price for the pollution created by them.

Quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC): A system of procedures, checks and audits to judge and control the quality of measurements and reduce the uncertainty of data. Some quality control procedures include having more than one person review the findings and analyzing a sample at different times or laboratories to see if the findings are similar.

Recycling: involves the reuse of previously used materials to prevent wastage so as to reduce the consumption of fresh raw materials.

Renewable energy: is energy generated from natural sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides and geothermal heat which are naturally replenishable.

Saprophyte: is an organism that lives on dead or decaying organic matter.

Sea level rise: is the current rise in the level of sea water which has been occurring due to global warming mostly brought on by mankind. The rate of increase had been 1.8mm per year for the past century and has recently risen to 2.8mm per year (1993-2003). This increase has caused melting of continental ice sheets which in turn causes the rise in sea levels.

Sequestration: or carbon sequestration is a way of reducing the build up of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by capturing and storing carbon emissions or other forms of carbon on a long-term base, for the mitigation of global warming. It has been proposed as a way to mitigate the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere released by the burning of fossil fuels.

Smog: is a relatively dark, smoky, fine dust-and soot containing fog which under certain meteorological conditions such as temperature inversion (temperature lower at ground surface than in air above) tends to hang over the ground surface for a considerable period and results in poor visibility and serious respiratory problems. (See Also, Pertochemical Smog)

Solar Cells: or photovoltaic cell is a device that can converts light directly into electrical energy by the photovoltaic effect. This is done without the use of either chemical reactions or moving parts.

Suspended particular matter: is a particle with a diameter less than 100 μm. It is a form of air pollution which maybe a mixture of solid and liquid partials for example dust, sand, smoke, sawdust, mist etc. the sources maybe man made i.e. from cutting of, wood pollution etc or natural forms maybe smoke and dust partials from volcanic eruptions and forest fires.

Sustainability: is the property of something or some action the advantage of which will not end abruptly but will continue to be of benefit to may succeeding generations. For example, afforestation of denuded land. (in fact, most ecofriendly actions would be sustainable)

Technosphere: is the world (sphere) of technology; artificial human-built so-called “sphere” of technology encompassing all conventional and on-going technologies including nuclear power technology and more recent revolutionary electronics based information technology all of which have direct or indirect interactions with the environment.

Three R’s: This is a group of terms crucial to sustainability: reduce, reuse and recycle. The first step is reducing things like energy use and waste output, then reusing products for a second purpose, and finally recycling them so they are diverted from landfills. Toxicity — The amount of a poisonous substance that exists in a given material. Toxins can be naturally occurring or man-made, and often are linked to water.

Ultraviolet Rays: Radiation from the sun that can be useful or potentially harmful. UV rays from one part of the spectrum (UV-A) enhance plant life. UV rays from other parts of the spectrum (UV-B) can cause skin cancer or other tissue damage. The ozone layer in the atmosphere partly shields us from ultraviolet rays reaching the earth's surface.

Vermicompost: or Vcompost is a nutrient-rich organic fertilizer and soil conditioner, which is a mixture of decomposing vegetables and food waste, bedding materials, and pure vermicast which is produced during the course of vermiculture operations. Vermicast also known as worm castings, worm humus or worm manure, is the end-product of the breakdown of organic matter by some species of earthworm.

Waste Water: is impure water that has been adversely affected in quality. It consists of liquid waste discharged by domestic residences, commercial properties, industry, and/or agriculture and can encompass a wide range of potential contaminants and concentrations.

Wetlands: form a natural ecosystem having the properties of both terrestrial and aquatic systems with the land remaining submerged at least during a part of the year. The soil is basically undrained giving rise to swamps, bogs and marshes. They also include estuaries and deltas, tidal mud flats and mangroves and even waterlogged paddy fields and shallow fisheries. Wetlands play an important role in aquifer recharging, flood control and often serve as partly purified sewage reservoirs.

Xenobiotic: A term for non-natural or man-made substances found in the environment (i.e., synthetics, plastics).

Yellow-Boy: Iron oxide flocculant (clumps of solids in waste or water); usually observed as orange-yellow deposits in surface streams with excess iron content.

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