Wicked Weather Watch JARGON BUSTER

Some of the words used to describe climate change can be a bit tricky sometimes, so we’ve made a list of useful words and explained their meaning.  If we’ve missed anything out, let us know and we’ll be happy to add it to the list.


  • Arctic Circle – there is actually no set definition of the Arctic Circle! Three (3) definitions are commonly used – see below for more information.
  • Arctic Tree Line – the most northerly point at which trees and plants can grow.
  • Biodiversity – the number and variety of plants, animals and other organisms that exist in a specific area.
  • Climate – the typical long-term weather conditions for a significant area.
  • Climate Change – a long-term change in the Earth’s climate.
  • Deforestation – clearing the Earth’s forests on a massive scale.
  • Ecosystem – a biological community of living organisms and their physical environment.
  • Fossil fuels – a natural fuel such as coal or gas.
  • Glaciers – a body of dense ice that moves under its own weight.
  • Global Warming – a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the Earth.
  • Greenhouse effect – The Earth’s natural layer of gas and air (the atmosphere) acts like a greenhouse and traps the sun’s energy, warming the Earth enough to support life. Excess greenhouse gases produced by pollution increase the amount of heat trapped in the Earth’s atmosphere, leading to global warming.
  • Greenhouse gases – gases like carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, produced from burning fossil fuel.
  • Ice-free months (also see Sea ice extent) – The number of months that there is no ice cover in areas of the Arctic, and the ocean is navigable. The number of ice-free months is one way to measure the impact of climate change – the hotter it is, the more the ice melts but also the less ice freezes over again in winter contributing to more ice-free months there are. Change is already apparent – in 1975 there used to be just a few days in summer when ships could move from Barrow to Prudhoe Bay off the north coast of Alaska. Now that window lasts months.
  • Migration – movement from one place to another.
  • Migratory species – animals or birds that move between two geographical areas, usually on a seasonal basis and often over long distances.
  • Permafrost – frozen soil, rock or sediment.
  • Precipitation – rain, snow, sleet or hail.
  • Sea Ice extent – a region that is (or is not) ice-covered. To be described as ‘ice-covered’ the region must have at least 15% ice. If less than 15%, it is considered ‘ice-free’ (see ice-free months above). When assessing the impact of climate change, it is important not just to look at how much ocean surface is covered by ice but also the thickness of the ice, know as the quality of the ice.
  • Tundra – a vast, flat treeless area over the Arctic.
  • Weather – the daily conditions of the atmosphere over a local area.

What's the difference?...

…between Climate and Weather?

Climate is the long-term weather pattern of a region or area,

Weather is the short term state of the atmosphere (for example the heat, cloud, rain, sun, wind etc) at a specific time and place

…between climate change and global warming?

Climate change describes how our planet’s average temperature, rainfall, wind and other weather conditions have changed over a long period of time.

Global Warming describes only the change in the Earth’s average temperature over a long period of time.

The Arctic Circle – different definitions

As we described on “the Arctic’ page of the website, the most common definition of the Arctic Circle is the region that sits above the imaginary line of latitude that wraps around the globe at approximately 66 deg 34 N.

This latitude marks the point north of which the sun does not rise above the horizon at winter solstice and does not set below it at summer solstice – “the land of the midnight sun”

But there are other definitions too:

Some scientists define the Arctic as the area north of the arctic tree line (green line in the map), where the landscape is frozen and dotted with shrubs and lichens.

Other researchers define Arctic based on temperature. Using this definition, the Arctic includes any locations in high latitudes where the average daily summer temperature does not rise above 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).

(Source – National Snow and Ice Data Centre – nsidc.org)

Map explaining the different Arctic regions

Click on the map above to look at it in more detail…

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