Earth's Systems Unit Vocabulary

The sun's energy affects all of Earth's spheres. Photo courtesy of dsevilla/Flickr.

Solar Energy & Earth's Systems

Albedo: the percentage of solar radiation reflected back into space

Absorbed Energy: energy from the sun that is absorbed by materials and converted to heat energy (e.g. pavement absorbs a lot of the sun's energy)

Biomass Fuels: fuels that come from living (or once living) organisms

Fuel: anything that can be consumed and used as a source of energy

Reflected Energy: when the sun's energy is bounced back from the surface of a material (e.g. a mirror or ice reflects a lot of the sun's energy)

Transmitted Energy: when the sun's energy is able to pass through a material (e.g. glass transmits the sun's energy)

Weather & Climate

Air Mass: large body of air that has the same properties as the surface over which it develops

Albedo: fraction of solar radiation that is reflected back to space

Anemometer: instrument used to measure wind speed

Antarctic Circle
located at 66.5 ºS latitude

Arctic Circle: located at 66.5 ºN latitude

Barometer: instrument used to measure air pressure

: average weather of an area over a period of 30+ years

Climatologist: scientist that studies climate

Dew Point: temperature to which air must be cooled to be saturated

Front: boundary between 2 air masses

Greenhouse Effect: natural warming of the atmosphere that occurs when certain gases absorb re-emitted radiation

Greenhouse Gases: atmospheric gases that contribute to Earth's greenhouse effect; include carbon dioxide, methane, water vapor, and nitrogen oxides

Global Warming: global rise in temperatures, caused primarily by an enhancement of Earth's natural greenhouse effect
Humidity: the amount of water vapor held in the air

Hurricanes: tropical, cyclonic storms that produce winds that travel at 120-240 km per hour

Hygrometer: instrument used to measure humidity

North Pole:
located at 90 ºN latitude

Precipitation: water falling from clouds

Relative Humidity: percentage of moisture in the air

Revolution: amount of time it takes Earth to complete one trip around the sun; 365 days

Rotation: amount of time it takes Earth to complete one spin on its axis; 24 hours

Saturated: when air contains as much moisture as it can possibly hold; relative humidity is 100%

South Pole:
located at 90 ºS latitude

Supercells: most powerful thunderstorms; required for tornado formation

Tropic of Cancer:
located at 23.5 ºN latitude

Tropic of Capricorn:
located at 23.5 ºS latitude

Vortices: spinning columns of air

Weather: describes present state of the atmosphere and current conditions.

Atmospheric & Oceanic Circulation

Coriolis Effect: occurs due to Earth's rotation; causes objects to move in a curved path rather than a straight line.

El Niño: a climate phenomenon that influneces sea surface temperatures and ocean currents

Gyres: ocean currents with nearly circular patterns of movement

Gulf Stream: makes up the western edge of the North Atlantic Gyre, it is a swift, warm current that travels along the east coast of the United States and across the North Atlantic Ocean.

Intertropical Convergence Zone: located where the northern and southern trade winds meet at the equator, characterized by stormy weather

Jet Streaks:
fastest winds within a jet stream

Jet Streams: fastest winds which occur at high altitudes where pressure differences are greatest

Polar Easterlies: global wind system located near the poles, starting at 60º N and S latitudes and extending poleward.

Polar Front Jet Stream: a high-speed band of wind traveling at up to 400 kilometers per hour (249 miles per hour) that encircles Earth at altitudes of 10-15 kilometers (6-9 miles)

Prevailing Westerlies: global wind systems located in the northern and southern hemispheres in a zone between 30-60ºN and S latitude.

Subpolar Low: zone of low pressure located between the polar easterlies and prevailing westerlies

Subtropical High: high pressure zone associated with the trade winds at 30º N and 30º S latitude.

Trade Winds: global wind system located between 30º N and 30º S latitudes.

Last modified: Thursday, 9 December 2010, 12:42 PM