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Earth System Science Glossary

aerosols
tiny particles suspended in the air.
atmosphere
the blanket of gas that surrounds the entire planet and extends to the edge of space. The atmosphere includes air, precipitation, clouds, and atmospheric aerosols.
biosphere
all living things, from microbes to humans and everything in between.
climate
the average weather conditions at a particular place over a long period of time. Climate is the long-term predictable state of the atmosphere.
closed system
a system in which no matter enters or leaves.
Coriolis effect
the tendency for any moving body on or above the earth's surface, such as a water current, to drift sideways from its course because of the earth's rotation.
cryosphere
the part of the hydrosphere containing all of the world's ice sheets and sea ice.
Earth system science
the study of processes that move energy and materials among the pedosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and atmosphere.
flux
the movement of matter from one reservoir to another.
fossil fuel
any fuel derived from hydrocarbon deposits such as coal, petroleum, natural gas and, to some extent, peat.
geosphere
the solid Earth (rock materials on the surface and in Earth's interior layers) and soil. See lithosphere.
GLOBE(Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment)
a hands-on, environmental science program. Students from all 50 states and more than 100 countries around the world participate by collecting local environmental data such as air temperature, cloud cover, or soil moisture content and posting that data on the GLOBE Web site.
groundwater
water beneath the earth's surface in underground streams and aquifers.
Gulf stream
a warm, powerful ocean current that flows from the Gulf of Mexico northward through the Atlantic Ocean.
gyre
rotating ocean current caused by the Coriolis Effect and interactions between water and land. The Coriolis effect acting on these currents causes northern hemisphere gyres to move in a clockwise direction and southern hemisphere gyres to move in a counterclockwise direction. Notable gyres include the North Atlantic Gyre, the South Atlantic Gyre, the Indian Ocean Gyre, the North Pacific Gyre, and the South Pacific Gyre.
Hadley cell
an atmospheric circulation pattern in the tropics in which air rises up into the atmosphere at or near the equator, flows toward the poles above the surface of the Earth, returns to the Earth's surface in the subtropics, and flows back towards the equator.
hydrosphere
all of Earth's bodies of water, including groundwater. The hydrosphere also includes the cryosphere.
isolated system
a system that exchanges absolutely no energy, matter, or information across its boundaries.
jet stream
narrow band of air that moves from west to east around the Earth at relatively high speeds (sometimes exceeding 320 kilometers per hour).
lithosphere
the solid Earth (rock materials on the surface and in Earth's interior layers) and soil. See geosphere.
open system
a system in which energy and/or matter flows freely across the system's boundaries.
pedosphere
outermost soil layer of the geosphere/lithosphere.
photosynthesis
the process by which plants make sugar from sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide.
remote sensing
the acquisition of information about an object by a recording device that is not in physical contact with it. Today, the term is commonly used to describe the process of collecting, viewing, interpreting, and analyzing aerial or satellite-based images..
reservoir
place where energy, water, and elements are stored.
Southern Oscillation
he atmospheric component of El NiƱo; a periodic reversal of the surface air pressure pattern across the tropical Pacific Ocean during El Nino events.
system
a set of interacting or interdependent parts working together.
thermohaline circulation
deep ocean currents controlled by temperature (thermo) and salinity (haline). Saltier water is more dense and therefore sinks. The motion of this heavier water results in vertical mixing of the ocean water that drives deep ocean currents. You might also hear this process referred to as the "global ocean conveyor belt" because the currents generated by this cold water mixing travel around the world.
transpiration
evaporation of water from plant leaves.
watershed
area of land where all the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place.

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