Glossary | State of the Environment 2015

acid sulfate soils: low-lying coastal clays and sands that contain sulfur-bearing compounds at concentrations above 0.05% in clays and 0.01% in sands

adaptive environmental water: water that is committed to the environment through water access licences; equivalent to ‘held water’ under Commonwealth legislation

air toxics: gaseous, aerosol or particulate contaminants present in ambient air in trace amounts with characteristics (toxicity, persistence) which make them a hazard to human health, and plant and animal life

algal bloom: extensive growth of algae in a body of water, which occurs due to climatic conditions or as a result of excess nutrients in the water

alluvium: clay, silt, sand, gravel or similar material deposited by running water, especially during recent geological time

anthropogenic: produced or caused by human activity

aquaculture: cultivation for commercial purposes of aquatic organisms including fish, molluscs and plants in fresh or salt water

aquifer: rocks and porous sediments which hold and yield groundwater

ballast water: water carried in tanks to maintain stability when a ship is lightly loaded and normally discharged to the sea when the ship is loaded with cargo

benthic: bottom-dwelling; usually refers to organisms living on the substrate at the bottom of a water body

bioaccumulation: the accumulation in an organism of substances such as pesticides or other chemicals, which occurs when the organism absorbs a toxic substance at a faster rate than the substance is lost

biodiversity: the variety of all life forms: the different plants, animals and microorganisms, the genes they contain and the ecosystems they form

biological control: use of organisms (predators, herbivores, parasites and disease-producing organisms) to control pests and weeds

biomass: the total mass of living material occupying a specific part, or the whole of, an ecosystem at a given time

bioregion: relatively large areas characterised by broad, landscape-scale natural features and environmental processes that influence the functions of ecosystems – these landscape patterns are linked to fauna and flora assemblages and processes at the ecosystem scale, providing a useful means for simplifying and reporting on more complex patterns of biodiversity

biota: collectively, the plants, microorganisms and animals of a region

black water: occurs naturally due to the breakdown of leaf litter, inundated crops and other vegetation which results in the release of tannins and lignin causing water discolouration and is associated with low dissolved oxygen levels

bloom: dense and visible growth of organisms (algae or other phytoplankton) in water, resulting from proliferation caused by increased nutrients (such as phosphorus), possibly toxic and generally resulting in reduced oxygen in the water

blue-green algae: members of the cyanobacteria (or Cyanophyta), characterised by blue-green pigmentation and a lack of cellular organisation

brownfield site: a site which needs to be cleared of existing industrial and commercial facilities with the accompanying risk of contamination

bycatch: species taken incidentally in a fishery along with the target species; often discarded

calcitic: in marine organisms, skeletons, shells, etc. can be based on calcium carbonate (calcite)

chain volume measures: volumes of economic activity or production that are weighted annually to remove the effect of changing prices and linked (or chained), to describe changes in levels of production or activity, particularly relevant where the prices of resources (like oil) or commodities (like computers) are subject to rapid change climate variation/climate variability

climate variation/climate variability: long-term changes in the patterns of average weather of a region or the Earth as a whole

CO2-equivalent (CO2-e): a metric measure used to compare the global warming potential (GWP) of various greenhouse gases relative to the concentration of CO2 (which is defined as having a GWP of 1). For example, methane is 21 times more effective than CO2 at heating the atmosphere and therefore has a GWP of 21; thus five tonnes of methane is equivalent to 5 × 21 = 105 tonnes of CO2

connectivity: the degree to which the landscape facilitates animal or plant movement or spread and ecological flows

Country: (Aboriginal) the term used to describe both the land and waters, including the sea, to which Aboriginal people have a cultural connection

critically endangered species: species (or population or ecological community) facing an extremely high risk of extinction in NSW in the immediate future

cyanobacteria: see blue-green algae

disturbance: (ecology) any process or event which disrupts ecosystem structure and resource availability

diversion: volume of water taken from a stream or aquifer on a sustained basis to supply water for rural, urban and industrial use; includes diversions undertaken by a water authority, private company or a group of individuals authorised to act as a water supply authority

domestic household use: when referring to water use, this is residential water use, excluding use for stock in rural areas

ecological community: an aggregation of organisms characterised by a distinctive combination of two or more species

ecosystem processes: the numerous interactions between different components (both living and non-living) of an ecosystem that support the biological elements of the system, including the storage and cycling of energy, nutrients and minerals; predation and competition; disturbance; weathering; and succession

ecosystem services: any functions provided by an ecosystem, such as the provision of clean air and water, the maintenance of soil fertility and the removal of wastes, that benefit humankind

El Niño – Southern Oscillation (ENSO): a natural oscillation in the state of the ocean–atmosphere system that leads to substantial changes in atmospheric circulation throughout the Asia–Pacific region and generally drier conditions in eastern Australia

electrical conductivity: a measure of charged particles in water used to estimate salinity, measured in microSiemens per centimetre (µS/cm)

emissions trading: a scheme to provide for market-based allocation of discharge opportunities; the environmental regulator first determines total acceptable emissions and then divides this total into tradeable units (often called credits or permits); these units are then allocated to scheme participants

endangered species: a species (or population or ecological community) facing a very high risk of extinction in NSW in the near future, but not considered to be critically endangered

environmental flows: flows of water (by volume and season) necessary to maintain aquatic biota and ecosystem processes

ephemeral plants: plants with a short life cycle – either perennial plants that produce new growth in a short seasonal cycle or plants that emerge and grow in response to short wet periods in arid climates

estuary: the part of the mouth or lower course of a river in which its current meets the sea’s tides, and is subject to their effects

euthanisation: the deliberate killing of a pest animal using humane means

eutrophication: the over-enrichment of a body of water with nutrients, primarily nitrogen and phosphorus, resulting in excessive growth of some plants and algae and the subsequent depletion of dissolved oxygen

e-waste: used (‘end-of-life’) electrical and electronic equipment, commonly composed of many component materials that are difficult and expensive to separate before they can be reused. Many of these materials, such as copper and gold, are valuable non-renewable resources; others, such as heavy metals, carbon black and brominated-flame retardants, are hazardous

extinct species: species that has not been recorded in its known or expected habitat in NSW over a time-frame appropriate to its life cycle and form

extraction: taking water from a waterbody or aquifer for use (also called abstraction)

faecal coliforms: a group of bacteria found in animal (including human) intestines and used as an indicator of the sanitary quality of water

faecal enterococci: a group of bacteria found in animal (including human) intestines and used as an indicator of the sanitary quality of water

fish kill: any sudden and unexpected mass mortality of wild or cultured fish

fishing effort: the amount of fishing gear used in a fishery over a unit of time, essentially fishing capacity times fishing activity

fishway: a structure placed on or around a constructed barrier (such as a dam or weir) to give fish the opportunity to migrate, also known as a fish ladder or fish pass

food web: a network describing the feeding interactions of the species in an area

fragmentation: the division of continuous habitat by vegetation clearance for human land-use activities, which isolates the remnant patches of vegetation and the species within them, and limits genetic flow between populations

fugitive emissions: releases of gases or vapours from mines or industrial equipment due to unintended or irregular occurrences (e.g. leaks)

full fuel cycle: emissions resulting from end use plus those resulting from feed stock extraction and refining, power generation and energy distribution

greater metropolitan area (GMA): the area of greater Sydney defined under the Protection of the Environment (Clean Air) Regulation 2010 (Part 1 s.3) and comprising the:

  1. Central Coast Metropolitan Area
  2. Newcastle Metropolitan Area
  3. Sydney Metropolitan Area
  4. Wollongong Metropolitan Area
  5. local government areas of Blue Mountains, Cessnock, Kiama, Lithgow, Maitland, Mid-Western Regional, Muswellbrook, Port Stephens, Shoalhaven, Singleton, Wingecarribee and Wollondilly

Greater Metropolitan Region (GMR):

  • GMR1: the area of greater Sydney defined by the Australian Bureau of Statistics comprising all statistical local areas and local government areas in the Sydney Statistical Division, Newcastle Statistical Subdivision, and Wollongong Statistical Subdivision
  • GMR2: comprising the Sydney, Illawarra and lower Hunter regions
  • GMR3: (Air Emissions Inventory) the area of NSW having Australian Map Grid (AMG) coordinates at the south-west corner at (Easting: 210000, Northing: 6159000, Zone 56) and north-east corner at (Easting: 420000, Northing: 6432000, Zone 56)

Greater Sydney: extends from Wyong and Gosford in the north, to the Royal National Park in the south; towards the west, the region includes the Blue Mountains, Wollondilly and Hawkesbury

greenhouse gases: atmospheric gases, including carbon dioxide, methane, chlorofluorocarbons, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour, which trap heat reflected from the Earth’s surface

groundwater: the water beneath the earth’s surface that has filtered down to the zone where it is captured and the sediments or rocks are fully saturated

groundwater-dependent ecosystem (GDE): ecosystems where the species composition or natural functions depend on the availability of groundwater

growth form: (vegetation) the general morphology or form of a plant type

hypoxia: depletion of dissolved oxygen in an aquatic environment to a level detrimental to aquatic organisms

Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD): a coupled oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon in the Indian Ocean that affects Australia’s climate

invasive species: a plant or animal that has been introduced into a region in which it does not naturally occur and that becomes established and spreads displacing naturally occurring species

invertebrates: animals without backbones, such as insects, worms, snails, mussels, prawns and cuttlefish

key threatening process (KTP): under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995, a process that significantly threatens, or may have the capability to significantly threaten, the survival or evolutionary development of species, populations or ecological communities

La Niña: the positive phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, involving extensive cooling of the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean, often accompanied by warmer than normal sea surface temperatures in the western Pacific, and to the north of Australia. La Niña events are associated with increased probability of wetter conditions over much of Australia, particularly over eastern and northern areas

likely: in descriptions of the effect of climate change, indicates that there is a greater than 66% probability of occurrence, based on the definitions in IPCC 2007

long-term average annual extraction limit (LTAAEL): the average level of groundwater that can be extracted annually from an aquifer for extraction to be sustainable over the longer term

longwall mining: the main method of underground coal mining in Australia, it involves progressively shaving slices of coal from a longwall face under the protection of hydraulic roof supports. The coal is removed on a conveyer and as the machinery and roof supports move forward the roof and overlying rock collapse into the void left behind

macroinvertebrates: invertebrates visible to the naked eye, having a body length exceeding 1 millimetre

mafic: describes a mineral or rock that is rich in magnesium and iron

monitoring investigation level (MIL): the concentration of an air toxic which if exceeded requires an appropriate form of further investigation and evaluation (National Environment Protection (Air Toxics) Measure)

montane: of or inhabiting mountainous country

more likely than not: in descriptions of the effect of climate change, indicates that there is a greater than 50% probability of occurrence, based on the definitions in IPCC 2007

mosaic: (vegetation) a combination of distinct vegetation types within a spatial unit that often cannot be discriminated by the mapping techniques employed

non-woody vegetation: for vegetation monitoring using Landsat MSS satellite sensors, vegetation formations that are less than two metres high or with less than 20% canopy cover (mainly grasslands, arid shrublands and woodlands)

NOx: a generic term for a combination of the gases nitric oxide (NO) and nitrogen dioxide (NO2); other oxides of nitrogen (e.g. nitrous oxide, N2O are usually not regarded as a component of NOx

off-gassing: the slow release of a gas from a solid material, such as by evaporation, desorption or chemical alteration

pathogen: a disease-causing organism

phreatic aquifer: the body of groundwater closest to the surface, the upper boundary of which corresponds to the water table

phreatophytic vegetation: deep-rooted plants that obtain a significant portion of the water they need from below the water table

planned environmental water: water committed to the environment by environmental water rules in water sharing plans

point source pollution: a source of pollution that can be pinpointed, such as a pipe outlet or chimney stack; see also diffuse source pollution

potable: water safe enough for drinking and food preparation

potential acid sulfate soils: soils generally found less than five metres above sea level that produce sulfuric acid when drained; the acid can affect groundwater and surface waters, with impacts on urban areas, farming productivity, plants and animals

primary production: (biology) the transformation of chemical or solar energy into organic matter and its accumulation in an ecosystem

productivity: (biology) the rate of accumulation of organic material in an ecosystem

projections: in the context of climate change, projections are estimates of future conditions and their effects on the environment, based on the application of a climate change model

recharge: the process whereby surface water from rain, irrigation or streams infiltrates into groundwater; the amount of water added to or absorbed into a groundwater system; or groundwater that feeds surface waters (also known as baseflow)

regulated rivers: (NSW) those rivers proclaimed under the Water Act 1912 as having their flows controlled by the major dams; ‘regulated’ means that flows along the length of these rivers are controlled by releases from major dams to meet the needs of licensed users; (hydrology) rivers affected by major dams, weirs, canalisation and water transfers

remnant: (ecology) a small, fragmented portion of vegetation that once covered an area before being cleared

remote sensing: a means of acquiring information using airborne equipment and techniques to determine the characteristics of an area, commonly using aerial photographs from aircraft and images from satellites

riparian: occurring on or adjacent to a river, stream or other waterway

riparian zone: situated on or belonging to a river or a stream bank

runoff: water from rain or snow (and the substances it carries) which flows off the surface of the land into catchments

sclerophyll: vegetation with hard leaves and short internodes, adapted to dry conditions and often low levels of soil phosphorus, usually with an over-storey of eucalypts

sequestration: the long-term storage of carbon dioxide

siliceous: describes a rock which has silica (SiO2) as its principal constituent

suspended solids: any solid substances present in water in an undissolved state, usually contributing directly to turbidity

sustainability: environmentally sound resource use; use that does not degrade ecosystems or affect the quality of the resource

Sydney metropolitan area: comprises 41 local government areas – Ashfield, Auburn, Bankstown, Blacktown, Blue Mountains, Botany, Burwood, Canada Bay, Camden, Campbelltown, Canterbury, Fairfield, Hawkesbury, Holroyd, Hornsby, Hunters Hill, Hurstville, Kogarah, Ku–Ring–Gai, Lane Cove, Leichhardt, Liverpool, Manly, Marrickville, Mosman, North Sydney, Parramatta, Penrith, Pittwater, Randwick, Rockdale, Ryde, Strathfield, Sutherland, Sydney, The Hills, Warringah, Waverley, Willoughby, Wollondilly and Woollahra; does not include Gosford and Wyong local government areas

temperature anomaly: the difference between an annual average temperature and the climatological average, which by World Meteorological Organisation convention is the average over 1961–90

total suspended solids (TSS): a measure of the inorganic salts (and organic compounds) dissolved in water

translocated native species: a plant or animal that occurs naturally in some part of Australia but has been introduced to another region in which it does not naturally occur

transpiration (evapo-transpiration): the loss of water by evaporation from the leaves of plants

turbidity: a measure of the amount of suspended solids (usually fine clay or silt particles) in water and thus the degree of scattering or absorption of light in the water

unregulated rivers: (NSW) rivers without major dams or regulating structures (cf. regulated rivers)

upwelling: divergence of water currents or the movement of warm surface water away from land leading to a ‘welling up’ of deeper water that is commonly richer in nutrients, with the combination of nutrients and warmth leading to abundant algal growth

vegetation class: a more detailed description of vegetation than formations, based on the dominant structure or growth-form, supplemented by selected details of plant composition, location or environmental characteristics that help to best identify it – in NSW, one of 99 classes defined by Keith 2004

vegetation community: a group or assemblage of plant species that tend to grow together in similar environmental conditions where the association of species helps to identify or describe the plant community

vegetation condition: the health of native vegetation communities which reflects the level of naturalness and is commonly assessed against a benchmark taking account of factors such as structural integrity, species composition, presence or absence of weeds and diseases and reproduction of species

vegetation formation: a very broad classification of vegetation based on the structure or growth-form of the dominant plants in the formation – in NSW, one of 16 formations defined by Keith 2004

vegetation structure: the organisation of plants within a plant stand or assemblage consisting of one or more layers or strata

vehicle kilometres travelled: a function of the number of motor vehicles on the road and the average distance travelled by each vehicle

vertebrates: animals with backbones and spinal columns – vertebrates include fishes, sharks and rays, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, and birds

very likely: in descriptions of the effect of climate change, indicates that there is a greater than 90% probability of occurrence, based on the definitions in IPCC 2007

virtually certain: in descriptions of the effect of climate change, indicates that there is a greater than 99% probability of occurrence, based on the definitions in IPCC 2007

vulnerable species: a species (or population or ecological community) facing a high risk of extinction in NSW in the medium-term future, but not considered to be endangered

wilderness: an area which, together with its plant and animal communities, is in a state that has not been substantially modified by humans, or that is capable of being restored to such a state, and is of sufficient size to make its maintenance in such a state feasible; it can provide opportunities for solitude and self-reliant recreation

woody vegetation: for vegetation monitoring using Landsat MSS satellite sensors, vegetation formations (mainly woodlands and forests) that are over two metres high and with more than 20% canopy cover; also known as ‘detectable native forest’

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