Independent Report to the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment and Heritage
Australian State of the Environment Committee, Authors
CSIRO Publishing on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06745 0


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Main Report Glossary

any gradual increase in size through growth or external addition
a suspension of particles, other than water or ice, in the atmosphere and ranging in size from about 5 nm to larger than 10 m radius; may be either natural or caused by human activity and most of the latter are usually considered to be pollutants
air toxics
gaseous, aerosol or particulate pollutants (other than the six criteria pollutants) present in the air in low concentrations with characteristics such as toxicity or persistence so as to be a hazard to human, plant or animal life
a body of air bounded by topography and meteorology in which a contaminant, once emitted, is contained for a period of time
algal blooms
a sudden proliferation of microscopic algae in water bodies, stimulated by the input of nutrients such as phosphates
of human origin or human induced
commercial growing of marine (mariculture) or freshwater animals and plants in water
an underground layer of soil, rock or gravel able to hold and transmit water. Bores and wells are used to obtain water from aquifers
arid zone
often arbitrarily defined in Australia as those areas receiving
atmospheric inversion
a cool layer of air gets trapped below a layer of warm air and is unable to rise. This 'ceiling' leads to a build up of polluted air close to the ground and prevents vertical mixing and dispersion of smoke and other air pollutants
Australia's marine area
area of sea or sea bed for which Australia has jurisdiction under the Law of the Sea Convention. It includes the Australian Exclusive Economic Zone around the mainland, islands and the Australian Antarctic Territory (AAT) and the continental shelf off the mainland and the AAT.
ballast water
water carried in tanks to maintain stability when a ship is lightly loaded; normally discharged to the sea when the ship is loaded with cargo
plant and animal life associated with aquatic floor and the sea bed
variability among living organisms from all sources (including terrestrial, marine and other ecosystems and ecological complexes of which they are part) and includes: diversity within species and between species and diversity of ecosystems
biogeochemical cycles
the movement of chemical elements between organisms and non-living compartments of the atmosphere, aquatic systems and soils
the quantity of organic matter within an ecosystem (usually expressed as dry weight for unit area or volume)
a territory defined by a combination of biological, social and geographical criteria rather than by geopolitical considerations; generally, a system of related, interconnected ecosystems
all of the organisms at a particular locality
blue-green algae
an ancient order of algae (with characteristics of bacteria) that have become more common in water bodies due to disturbance and pollution. Some species produce toxins that can cause sickness and nerve and liver damage.
broad-scale clearing
removing vegetation, particularly trees and shrubs, from a landscape
Burra Charter
a document which sets out the principles, processes and standards for the conservation of the cultural environment. Also known as The Australia ICOMOS Charter for Places of Cultural Significance following the 1999 revision which was published by Australia ICOMOS Inc. in 2000.
the catch of species other than those targeted by fishing activity
carbon sequestration
the uptake and storage of carbon
the area determined by topographic features within which rainfall will contribute to runoff at a particular point under consideration
whales, dolphins and porpoises
chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
synthetic products, which do not occur naturally and contain chlorine and fluorine; commonly used in various industrial processes and as refrigerants and, prior to 1990, as a propellant gas for sprays; deplete ozone in the stratosphere and are powerful greenhouse gases
In relation to biodiversity: the protection, maintenance, management, sustainable use, restoration and enhancement of the natural environment.
In relation to natural and cultural heritage: conservation implies keeping in safety or preserving the existing state of a heritage resource from destruction or change
contaminated site
a site at which hazardous substances occur at concentrations above background levels and where assessment shows it poses, or is likely to pose, an immediate or long-term hazard to human health or the environment
dryland salinity
areas where soil salinity levels are high enough to affect plant growth
ecologically sustainable development (ESD)
using, conserving and enhancing the community's resources so that ecological processes, on which life depends, are maintained and the total quality of life, now and in the future, can be increased
a dynamic complex of plant, animal and microorganism communities and their non-living environment interacting as a functional unit
ecosystem services
organisms and environmental processes interacting to create a healthy environment for human beings, from production of oxygen to soil formation and maintenance of water quality
El Nio
an extensive warming of the central and eastern Pacific Ocean that leads to a major shift in weather patterns across the Pacific. In Australia (particularly eastern Australia), El Nino events are associated with an increased probability of drier conditions
endangered species
a species in danger of extinction and whose survival is unlikely if the causal factors continue. Included are species whose numbers have been reduced to a critical level or whose habitats have been so drastically reduced that the species are deemed to be in danger of extinction
native to a particular area and found nowhere else
energy efficiency
the means of using less energy in doing the same amount of work
enhanced greenhouse effect
the addition to the natural greenhouse effect resulting from human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels and land clearing, which increase the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and CFCs (see also greenhouse effect)
Includes: ecosystems and their constituent parts, including people and communities; natural and physical resources; the qualities and characteristics of locations, places and areas; the social, economic and cultural aspects of a thing mentioned in the previous three criteria
process by which waters become enriched with nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus which stimulate the growth of aquatic flora and/or fauna
those times a measurement of a component goes beyond a specified limit
Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)
a concept recognised under the United Nations Law of the Sea, whereby coastal states assume jurisdiction over the exploration and exploitation of marine resources extending 200 nautical miles from the shore or baseline
extensive land use zone (ELZ)
those areas, where the most common land use is pastoralism and where grazing by domestic stock and, to a much lesser extent, repeated burning are the major pressures
fire regime
the pattern of fires at a location; includes the frequency, intensity and seasonality of the fires
fugitive emissions
greenhouse gases emitted in an uncontrolled manner, such as during fuel production, processing, transmission, storage and distribution, and include emissions from oil and natural gas exploration, venting, flaring, as well as the mining of black coal
to the Indigenous people of north-east Arnhem Land, garma is an open forum where people can share ideas. In its application to the intercultural interface, garma means a set of opportunities to build protocols for culture and knowledge exchange in an open and equal way between groups in society
genetically modified organisms
organisms whose genetic make up has been altered by the insertion or deletion of small fragments of DNA in order to create or enhance desirable characteristics from the same or another species
global warming
see enhanced greenhouse effect
greenhouse effect
a term used to describe the role of atmospheric trace gases - water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone, in keeping the earth's surface warmer than it would be otherwise (see enhanced greenhouse effect)
greenhouse gas emissions
emission of those gases that, by affecting the radiation transfer through the atmosphere, contribute to the greenhouse effect (see enhanced greenhouse effect)
the water beneath the surface that can be collected with wells, tunnels, or drainage galleries, or that flows naturally to the earth's surface via seeps or springs
include bromofluorocarbons and bromochlorofluorocarbons, which are very stable chemicals that act similarly to CFCs in ozone depletion; previously used in fire extinguishers
heavy metal
metallic element with relatively high atomic mass (over 5.0 specific gravity) such as lead, cadmium, arsenic and mercury; generally toxic in relatively low concentrations to plant and animal life
heritage objects
may be in situ at significant sites or held in collecting institutions such as archives, libraries, museums, galleries, zoos, herbaria or botanic gardens or historic buildings
organic molecules containing hydrogen and carbon; the major components of petroleum
Indigenous peoples
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples of Australia
intensive land use zone (ILZ)
the location of clearing where the greatest disturbance has been native vegetation clearance and replacement with exotic crops, pasture and forest vegetation
between the levels of low and high tide
invasive species
a species occurring as a result of human activities beyond its accepted normal distribution and which threatens valued environmental, agricultural or personal resources by the damage it causes
an animal without a backbone composed of vertebrae (e.g. insects, worms, snails, mussels, prawns and cuttlefish)
La Nia
warming of the western equatorial Pacific warm pool, north of New Guinea, accompanied by cooling in the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean. La Nia is often associated with above average rainfall in eastern Australia (see El Nio)
a program to further sustainable land management
macro algae
large form of algae of simple organisms mostly aquatic containing chlorophyll and/or other photosynthetic pigments
a plant (belonging to any of a wide range of species, mainly trees and shrubs) that grows in sediment regularly inundated by sea water
a malignant tumour derived from pigment-containing cells especially in skin
methyl bromide
a highly effective fumigant used to control insects, nematodes, weeds and pathogens, listed as an ozone-depleting substance
a phylum of invertebrates, including snails, clams, octopuses, squids, and others
Montreal Protocol
Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer, agreed in Montreal in 1987
extend from the Tropics (23 30" N and S) to the ARctic Circle (66 30" N) and the Antarctic Circle (66 30" S)
National Environment Protection Measures (NEPMs)
NEPMs are broad framework-setting statutory instruments defined in the NEPC legislation (see )
national estate
The National Estate, as defined in the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975, 'consists of those places, being components of the natural environment of Australia or the cultural environment of Australia, that have aesthetic, historic, scientific or social significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community'
Natural Heritage Trust
a body established by the Natural Heritage Trust of Australia Act 1997 to stimulate conservation, sustainable use and repair of Australia's natural environment
non-point source
a source not easily identified at a particular place, often referred as diffuse sources
nutrient cycling
is the repeated pathway of particular nutrients or elements from the environment through one or more organisms back to the environment: includes the carbon cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the phosphorus cycle
old-growth forests
forests dominated by mature trees and with little or no evidence of any disturbance such as logging, road building or clearing
ozone depletion
the natural equilibrium between chemical reactions forming and destroying stratospheric ozone is disturbed by the release of manufactured chemicals
ozone layer
a region in the stratosphere where there is a small, but significant, amount of ozone
very small pieces of solid or liquid matter, such as soot, dust, smoke or mist
an agent (e.g. a virus, protozoa or bacteria) that causes disease
PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)
a group of chlorinated organic compounds that are non-corroding and resistant to heat and biological degradation; used as insulation in electrical equipment; can accumulate in some species and disrupt reproduction
photochemical smog
air pollution caused by chemical reactions among various substances and pollutants in the atmosphere in the presence of sunlight; ozone is a major constituent
sunlight causing the chemical bonds in a molecule to break
PM10 and PM2.5
particles with aerodynamic diameters of up to 10 m and 2.5 m, respectively
point-source pollution
pollution from an easily discernable, single source such as a factory or sewage treatment plant
potable water
water pure enough to drink by humans
a person or organisation seeking approval to conduct a business or activity that impacts on the environment
Ramsar Convention
The Convention on Wetlands, signed in Ramsar, Iran, in 1971 providing the framework for the conservation and wise use of wetlands and their resources. There are presently 122 Contracting Parties to the Convention, with 1031 wetland sites, totalling 78.2 million hectares, designated for inclusion in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance
native grasslands, shrublands and woodlands that cover a large proportion of the arid and semi-arid regions, and also include tropical savanna woodlands; regular cropping is not practised and the predominant agricultural use, if any, is grazing of sheep and cattle on native vegetation
Register of the National Estate
the national inventory of places of natural, historic and Indigenous heritage significance, which have been assessed by the Australian Heritage Commission and deemed to be worth conserving for present and future generations
regulated rivers
rivers whose flows are controlled or regulated by releases made from dams to meet the needs of licensed uses
remote sensing
may be broadly defined as the collection of information about an object without being in physical contact with the object. Aircraft and satellites are the common platforms from which remote sensing observations are made
rill erosion
a form of erosion involving formation of shallow gutters which may be removed by cultivation
riparian vegetation
plants communities on the fringes and adjacent to water bodies
river salinity
increasing concentrations of salt in rivers and creeks caused by saline discharges from dryland, irrigation and urban salinity
portion of rainfall not immediately absorbed into the soil and which becomes surface flow
the process by which land becomes salt affected
the concentration of salts in water and/or soil
intertidal and subtidal flowering plants found mainly in shallow waters of protected coastal waters
remnants of extinct volcanoes found in Australia's deep marine environment. They are typically cone-shaped, 200 to 500 m high and several kilometres across and between 650 and 1000 m below the sea surface
lands where rainfall is so low and unreliable that crops cannot be grown with any reliability (see arid zone)
processes or places that remove or store gases, solutes or solids in accumulating parts of the environment
sodic soils
soils with a high proportion of sodium relative to calcium, potassium and magnesium in the composition of the exchangeable cations on the clay fraction
Southern Oscillation
a fluctuation in the atmospheric circulation, in particular over the tropical areas of the Pacific and Indian oceans; in general, when atmospheric pressures are high over the eastern Pacific Ocean they tend to be low in the eastern Indian Ocean and vice versa; the fluctuation between the two produces a marked variation in parameters such as the sea surface temperature and rainfall over a wide area of the Pacific and has a cycle of two to seven years; the phenomenon is strongly linked to the El Nio
State of the Environment reporting
a scientific assessment of environmental conditions, focusing on the impacts of human activities, their significance for the environment and societal responses to the identified trends
an activity able to be carried out without damaging the long-term health and integrity of natural and cultural environments
sustainable extraction limits
the volume of water extracted over a specific time frame that should not be exceeded to protect the higher social, environmental and economic uses associated with the aquifer
a close association between the individuals of pairs of species often leading to mutual gains
forces or conditions within the earth that cause movements of the crust such as earthquakes, folds and faults
a species or community that is vulnerable, endangered or presumed extinct (as defined in the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999)
threatening process
a process that threatens, or may threaten, the survival, abundance or evolutionary development of a native species or ecological community
tillage systems
the sequence of all operations involved in producing the crop, including soil manipulation, harvesting, chopping or shredding of residue and application of pesticides and fertilisers
a substance that could cause adverse effects in a living organism
the extent to which the passage of light through water is reduced by suspended matter
volatile organic compound (VOC)
carbon containing compounds occurring in ambient air as gases or vapour with boiling points between 50C and 260C. The VOCs that participate in smog formation reactions are called reactive organic compounds (ROCs) (e.g. benzene, xylene and toluene)
used water; in most cases is not suitable for drinking
World Heritage sites
sites of outstanding universal natural or cultural significance that are included on the World Heritage List

Theme Report Glossaries