Global Warming Effects Around the World

Global Warming Glossary *


Radiative forcing - Radiative forcing is the change in the net, downward minus upward, irradiance (expressed in W m-2) at the tropopause due to a change in an external driver of climate change, such as, for example, a change in the concentration of carbon dioxide or the output of the Sun. Radiative forcing is computed with all tropospheric properties held fixed at their unperturbed values, and after allowing for stratospheric temperatures, if perturbed, to readjust to radiative-dynamical equilibrium. Radiative forcing is called instantaneous if no change in stratospheric temperature is accounted for. For the IPCC reports, radiative forcing is further defined as the change relative to the year 1750 and, unless otherwise noted, refers to a global and annual average value. Radiative forcing is not to be confused with cloud radiative forcing, a similar terminology for describing an unrelated measure of the impact of clouds on the irradiance at the top of the atmosphere.

Rangeland - Unmanaged grasslands, shrublands, savannas and tundra.

Rebound effect - After implementation of efficient technologies and practices, part of the savings is taken back for more intensive or other consumption, e.g., improvements in car-engine efficiency lower the cost per kilometer (mile) driven, encouraging more car trips or the purchase of a more powerful vehicle.

Recalcitrant - Recalcitrant organic material or recalcitrant carbon stocks resist decomposition.

Reforestation - Planting of forests on lands that have previously contained forests but that have been converted to some other use.

Reinsurance - The transfer of a portion of primary insurance risks to a secondary tier of insurers (reinsurers); essentially 'insurance for insurers'.

Relative sea level - Sea level measured by a tide gauge with respect to the land upon which it is situated. Mean sea level is normally defined as the average relative sea level over a period, such as a month or a year, long enough to average out transients such as waves and tides.

Reservoir - A component of the climate system, other than the atmosphere, which has the capacity to store, accumulate or release a substance of concern, for example, carbon, a heat-trapping gas (greenhouse gas) or a precursor. Oceans, soils and forests are examples of reservoirs of carbon. Pool is an equivalent term (note that the definition of pool often includes the atmosphere). The absolute quantity of the substance of concern held within a reservoir at a specified time is called the stock.

Resilience - The ability of a social or ecological system to absorb disturbances while retaining the same basic structure and ways of functioning, the capacity for self-organization, and the capacity to adapt to stress and change.

Respiration - The process whereby living organisms convert organic matter to carbon dioxide, releasing energy and consuming molecular oxygen.

Response time - The response time or adjustment time is the time needed for the climate system or its components to re-equilibrate to a new state, following a forcing resulting from external and internal processes or feedbacks. It is very different for various components of the climate system. The response time of the troposphere is relatively short, from days to weeks, whereas the stratosphere reaches equilibrium on a time scale of typically a few months. Due to their large heat capacity, the oceans have a much longer response time: typically decades, but up to centuries or millennia. The response time of the strongly coupled surface-troposphere system is, therefore, slow compared to that of the stratosphere, and mainly determined by the oceans. The biosphere may respond quickly (e.g., to droughts), but also very slowly to imposed changes. See lifetime for a different definition of response time pertinent to the rate of processes affecting the concentration of trace gases.

Riparian - Relating to or living or located on the bank of a natural watercourse (such as a river) or sometimes of a lake or a tidewater.

River discharge - Water flow within a river channel, for example expressed in cubic meters per second (cubic feet per second). A synonym for stream flow.

Runoff - That part of precipitation that does not evaporate and is not transpired.


Glossaries of the contributions of Working Groups I, II and III to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report 2007.

Nakićenović, N., J. Alcamo, G. Davis, B. de Vries, J. Fenhann, S. Gaffin, K. Gregory, A. Grübler, T.Y. Jung, T. Kram, E.L. La Rovere, L. Michaelis, S. Mori, T. Morita, W. Pepper, H. Pitcher, L. Price, K. Raihi, A. Roehrl, H.-H. Rogner, A. Sankovski, M. Schlesinger, P. Shukla, S. Smith, R. Swart, S. van Rooijen, N. Victor and Z. Dadi, 2000: Emissions Scenarios: A Special Report of Working Group III of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, and New York, 599 pp.

* Definitions adapted from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report 2007 and the Dictionary of Geological Terms Third Edition. 1984. Bates and Jackson (Eds).