Term

Definition

Example

Adaptation

The process of adjusting to new (climate) conditions in order to reduce risks to valued assets.

Relocating buildings out of flood plains or further inland from rising seas are examples of physical adaptations. Using smaller amounts of water during times of drought is an example of behavioral adaptation.

Adaptive capacity

The ability of a person or system to adjust to a stressor, take advantage of new opportunities, or cope with change.

Increasing the capacity of stormwater runoff channels enhances the adaptive capacity of places that face flooding from increasingly heavy rainfalls.

Climate stressor

Events and trends related to weather, climate, and climate change that have an important, generally negative, effect on exposed systems.

Increasing frequency and intensity of drought conditions can be a climate stressor for forests and crops.

Ecosystem services

Benefits that humans receive from natural systems.

Humans draw food, fiber, and fish from ecosystems. Ecosystems also filter water, sequester carbon, and serve as a source of inspiration.

Exposure

The presence of people, assets, and ecosystems in places where they could be adversely affected by hazards.

Homes and businesses along low-lying coasts are exposed to coastal flooding from storms.

Hazard

The potential occurrence of an event that may cause injury, illness, or death to humans, damage to assets or infrastructure, or adverse effects on ecosystems.

Extended periods of excessive heat are likely to be an increasingly common hazard in the coming decades.

Impacts

Effects on natural and human systems due to extreme weather, climate events, and climate change. Impacts are also referred to as consequences or outcomes.

Wildfires in the West are starting earlier in the spring and lasting later into the fall. This is an impact of hotter and drier weather and earlier snowmelt.

Mitigation

Processes that can reduce the amount and speed of future climate change by reducing emissions of heat-trapping gases or removing them from the atmosphere

Carbon-neutral energy sources such as solar and wind represent mitigation efforts.

Projection

Potential future climate conditions calculated by computer-based models of the Earth system. Unlike predictions, projections are based on sets of assumptions about the future (scenarios) that may or may not be realized.

Climate projections indicate that if human emissions of heat-trapping gases continue increasing through 2100 (a scenario, or possible future), most locations will see substantial increases in the number of days in which temperature exceeds 100°F (potential future conditions).

Resilience

The capacity of a community, business, or natural environment to prevent, withstand, respond to, and recover from a disruption.

Installation of backflow preventers in the stormwater systems of a coastal city increased their resilience to flooding from extreme high tides.

Risk

The potential for consequences when something of value may be partly or completely damaged or lost. Risk is often evaluated by the probability of a hazardous event’s occurrence multiplied by the impacts that would result if it did happen.

Warehouses sited on a floodplain represent a higher risk for flooding when they are filled with products than when they are empty.

Sensitivity

The degree to which a system, population, or resource is affected by climate impacts (including extreme weather) or changing climate conditions.

The yield of crops with a high sensitivity may be reduced in response to a change in the mean, range, or variability of temperature.

Uncertainty

A state of incomplete knowledge indicating the degree to which future climate is unknown. Uncertainty about future climate arises from the complexity of the climate system and the ability of models to represent it, as well as the inability to predict the decisions that society will make.

Though climate model projections are uncertain about how much precipitation will change in the future, they generally agree that wet places are likely to get wetter, and dry places are likely to get drier.

Vulnerability

The propensity or predisposition of human and other systems to be adversely affected by climate change. Vulnerability encompasses concepts such as susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope or adapt.

Despite the thick walls of the old lighthouse, its location on a barrier island made it vulnerable to shoreline erosion.

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Last modified: 5 April 2017 - 12:08pm