Environmental Science

The dense, intensely hot mass of molten metal, mostly iron and nickel, thousands of kilometers in diameter at the earth’s center.
The cool, lightweight outermost layer of the earth’s surface that floats on the soft pliable underlying layers: similar to a “skin” on a bowl of warm pudding.
Sudden, violent movement of the Earth’s crust.
Heap-leach extraction
A technique for separating gold from extremely low-grade ores. Crushed ore is piled in huge heaps and sprayed with a dilute alkaline-cyanide solution, which percolates through the pile to extract the gold, which is separated from the effluent in a processing plant. This process has a high potential for water pollution.
Igneous rocks
Crystalline minerals solidified from molten magna from deep in the Earth’s interior; basalt, rhyolite, andesite, lava, and granite are examples.
Molten rock from deep in the Earth’s interior; called lava when it spews from volcanic vents.
A hot, pliable layer of rock that surrounds the Earth’s core and underlies the cool outer crust.
Mass wasting
Mass movement of geological materials downhill caused by rockslides, avalanches or simple slumping.
Metamorphic rock
Igneous or sedimentary rocks modified by heat, pressure, chemical reactions.
A naturally occurring, inorganic, crystalline solid with definite chemical composition and characteristic physical properties.
A solid, cohesive aggregate of one or more crystalline minerals.
Rock cycle
The process whereby rocks are broken down by chemical and physical forces; sediments are moved by wind water and gravity, sedimented and reformed into rock, and then crushed, folded, melted and recrystallized into new forms.
Sedimentary rock
Deposited material that remains in place long enough or is covered with enough material to compact into stone; examples include shale, sandstone, breccia, and conglomerates.
The deposition of organic materials or minerals by chemical, physical or biological processes.
Heating ores to extract metals.
Tectonic plates
Huge blocks of the Earth’s crust that slide around slowly, pulling apart to open new ocean basins or crashing ponderously into each other, to create newer, larger landmasses.
Giant seismic sea swells that move rapidly from the center of an earthquake. They can be 10 to 20 meters high.
Vents in the Earth’s surface through which gases, ash or molten lava are ejected. Also a mountain formed by this ejecta.
Changes in rocks brought about by exposure to air, water, changing temperatures, and reactive chemical agents.
Minute particles or liquid droplets suspended in the air.
A description of a surface’s reflective properties.
A description of the long-term pattern of weather in a particular area.
Cold Front
A moving boundry of colder air displacing warmer air.
Convection Currents
Rising or sinking air currents that stir the atomshpere and transport heat from one area to another.
Coriolis Affect
The influence of friction and drag on air layers near the Earth; deflects air currents to the direction of the Earth’s rotation.
Straight line winds over 100 mph that generate from a supercell. Also called a downdraft. When the supercell isn’t organized enough to generate a tornado.
El Nino
A climatic change marked by shifting of a large warm water pool from the Western Pacific Ocean towards the East.
Greenhouse Effect
Gases in the atmoshere are transparent to visable light but absorb infared (heat) waves that are reradiated from the Earth’s surface.
Large cyclonic oceanic storms with heavy rain and winds exceeding 74 mph.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
An international organization formed to assess global climate change and its impacts.
Jet Streams
Powerful winds or currents of air that cirrculate in shifting flows; similar to oceanic currents in extent and effect on climate.
Kyoto Protocol
A international agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
La Nina
The part of a large scale oscillation in the Pacific in which trade winds hold warm surface waters in the western part of the basin and cause an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich, deep water in the eastern part of the ocean.
Latent Heat
Stored energy in a form that is not sensible (detectable).
Milankovitch Cycles
Periodic variations in tilt, eccentricity, and wobble in the earth’s orbit; Milutin Milankovitch suggested it was responsible for cyclic weather changes.
A seasonal reversal of wind patterns caused by the different heating and cooling rates of the oceans and continents.
A hightly reactive molecule containing three oxygen atoms; a dangerous pollutant in ambient air. In the stratosphere, however, ozone forms an ultraviolet absorbing shield that protects us from mutagenic radiation.
Pacific Decadal Oscillation
A large pool of warm water that moves North and South in the Pacific Ocean every 30 years or so and has large effects on North America’s climate.
The zone in the atmosphere extending from the tropopause about 30 miles about the Earth’s surface; temperatures are stable or rise slightly with altitude; has very little water vapor but is rich in ozone.
A violent storm characterized by strong swirling winds and updrafts; tornados form when a strong cold front pushes under a warm, moist air mass over the land.
The layer of air nearest to the Earth’s surface; both temperature and pressure usually decrease with increasing altitude.
Warm Front
A long, wedge-shaped boundry caused when a warmer advancing air mass slides over neighboring cooler air parcels.
Description of the physical conditions of the atmosphere (moisture, temperature, pressure and wind).