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acid mine drainage (AMD) water draining out of surface or subsurface mines that has an extremely low pH (i.e. high concentration of hydrogen ions); it often contains high concentrations of sulfur, aluminum, and heavy metals such as iron.

aquatic of or relating to water; living on or in water (as opposed to land or air).

atmosphere the area in which all air exists; this sphere contains all of the gases that surround Earth.

biome ecological communities of microorganisms, plants and animals formed within the biosphere as a result of the physical surroundings of an area; e.g. deserts, grasslands, and tropical rainforests.

biodiversity the relationship between the number of species present in an area and the number of individuals within each of those species.

biosphere the area in which all living things exist; this sphere includes all of the microorganisms, plants, and animals of Earth, even humans.

buffer zone the area between the source of a pollutant and its potential sink; this area filters and/or dilutes the pollutant.

combustion the more rapid process of oxidation that occurs when organic matter ignites and burns, producing light and heat; it is the same chemical reaction that occurs during decomposition and respiration, 6 O2 + C6H12O6 ------> 6 H2O + 6 CO2.

decompose to rot or decay; it is the same chemical reaction that occurs during combustion and respiration,
6 O2 + C6H12O6 ------> 6 H2O + 6 CO2.

detritus fresh to partly decomposed plant or animal matter.

ecosystem the biotic (i.e. living) community and abiotic (i.e. non-living; chemical and physical) environment that function together.

ecotourism the practice of touring natural habitats with minimal impacts on the environment; e.g. hiking and bird watching.

endangered a species that is declining in population size and is near extinction.

energy the ability to do work.

extinction the complete disappearance of a species from Earth's gene pool.

genetically isolated a small breeding population that is geographically cut off from other individuals within its species. It leads to inbreeding.

geologic time all time since the Earth was formed and continuing through the present.

groundwater water that seeps down through the soil and is located in underground reservoirs called aquifers.

hydric wet; generally refers to the soil in an environment.

hydrology the movement of water through an environment.

hydrosphere the area in which water exists; for the purpose of this module, this sphere includes all liquid water on Earth, such as rivers, lakes, and oceans, as well as all frozen water such as glaciers, icebergs, and polar icecaps.

hydroperiod the length of one wet and dry cycle.

hydrophyte "water-loving;" generally refers to plants that are adapted to growing in wet environments.

inbreeding mating among close relatives. This often leads to severe abnormalities in offspring as a result of little genetic variability between mating pairs.

lithosphere the area in which all of the cold, hard solid land of the planet's crust (surface), the semi-solid rock underneath the crust, and the liquid rock near the center of the planet exist; note that many geologists reserve the use of this term to refer only to the crust of the Earth.

mitigation the return an ecosystem to the way it was prior to a disturbance; the act of making a situation less severe, hostile, or harsh.

nutrient an inorganic (i.e. non-carbon-based) element required by an organism for normal growth and activity.

photosynthesis the process by which green plants convert solar energy into chemical energy in the form of organic (carbon-containing) molecules, releasing oxygen as a by-product; 
6 CO2 + 6 H2O + sunlight ------> C6H12O6 + 6 O2

predator a living organism that relies on another living organism as a food source; e.g. a panther is a predator that relies on deer as a food source.

prey a living organism on which another living organism relies as a food source; e.g. a deer is prey for a panther.

primary producer an organism that traps and stores the sun's energy; e.g. plants and some bacteria.

productivity the rate of energy storage over time.

respiration the process by which animals oxidize organic (carbon-containing) molecules to convert their chemical energy to heat, releasing carbon dioxide and water as by-products; it is the same chemical reaction that occurs during combustion and decomposition, 6 O2 + C6H12O6 ------> 6 H2O + 6 CO2.

rock cycle the geologic cycle through which rocks are created, changed, and destroyed.

sediment pieces of organic or inorganic material that are deposited on Earth's surface.

sedimentary rock rock formed from deposits of sediment that have been compressed and cemented together.

sink the ultimate storage area of an element (a nutrient, pollutant, etc.) moving through an ecosystem.

sphere 1. The area or range in which something acts or exists; e.g. the hydrosphere is the area in which all water exists. 2. Round object, a three-dimensional circle for which all points on it's surface are the same distance from its center; e.g. a beach ball.

subspecies a subclass of a species population that has developed distinguishing morphological, behavioral, and/or physiological characteristics as a result of geographical location. While an individual of one species cannot breed with an individual from a different species, members of two different subspecies are capable of breeding with other members of their species; e.g. a Florida Panther cannot breed with a Florida alligator (two different species), but a Florida Panther can breed with a Texas Mountain Lion (another subclass of the species Felis concolor).

terrestrial of or relating to land; living on or in land (as opposed to water or air).

threatened (species) a species that is declining in population size and near to becoming endangered.

toxin  a poisonous substance.

wastewater water that has been used; sewage.

watershed an area of land that drains into a common reservoir such as a stream, river, lake, or ocean; also referred to as a drainage basin or catchment area.

wetlands lands where water saturation is the dominant factor determining the nature of the soil development and the plant and animal communities; e.g. bogs, marshes, swamps, and estuaries.

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