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CLEAN Climate and Energy Vocabularies

The CLEAN team developed a set of terms that define climate science, climate change, and energy awareness. The idea of these terms, or "vocabularies" is to allow users to easily search the collection of activities to hone in on their specific areas of interest. Each teaching resource is tagged with the appropriate vocabularies so that the collection can be browsed across various subject areas.

Screenshot CLEAN vocab

The development of these vocabularies was informed by:

  1. Existing vocabulary terms developed for the SERC collections and refined by insight from workshops and from using the vocabularies to tag hundreds of climate and energy resources held in the SERC collections. The SERC vocabularies were developed to encompass climate and energy topics that would be taught within an undergraduate setting.
  2. Existing vocabulary terms that were developed by the NOAA climate education group targeting K-12 audience.

The vocabularies have 7 top-level terms which are defined by sub-level terms, 43 secondary and 40 tertiary level terms. In some cases additional explanation about the meaning of the vocabularies is provided in a "mouse-over" function and is displayed below in parenthesis.

The vocabularies were tested with user groups on two different occasions with 47 test subjects. Results of the usability testing helped to refine the terms to ensure that they were intuitive and that they sufficiently spanned the subject areas within climate and energy.

CLEAN Climate and Energy Vocabularies


Climate System
(Includes natural processes within the climate system: orbital patterns, solar radiation, oceans, atmosphere, water cycle, the natural greenhouse effect, carbon cycle, regional climates and differences between climate and weather).
    • Global Energy Balance
    • Orbital Cycles (such as Milankovitch Cycles)
      • Long-term Cycles
      • Seasons (Seasonal cycles and seasonal effects)
    • Solar Radiation
    • Atmospheric Composition
      • Greenhouse Gases
      • Aerosols
      • Evolution of Atmosphere
    • Greenhouse Effect (natural greenhouse effect)
    • Atmospheric Circulation
      • Hadley Cells
      • Coreolis Effect
    • Ocean and Climate (The ocean's role in the climate system; interactions between ocean and climate)
      • Heat Capacity of Water
      • Thermohaline Circulation
      • Thermal Expansion
    • Climate Feedbacks
      • Albedo
      • Deforestation
    • Water Cycle (Evaporation, precipitation, sublimation, evapotranspiration, water vapor)
    • Carbon Cycle
      • Biogeochemical Processes
      • Sources and Sinks (Including land use, ocean absorption, carbonate rocks)
    • Regional Climates
    • Climate Compared to Weather

Causes of Climate Change (Includes natural changes (cyclic variability, volcanic eruptions, solar output) and human-caused changes (due to GHG emissions and land use changes))
    • Cyclical and Natural Changes
      • El Nino, La Nina, ENSO
      • Other Oscillations (Includes North Atlantic Oscillation, Arctic Oscillation, Pacific-North American Pattern, Madden-Julian Oscillation, etc.)
      • Volcanic Eruptions
      • Solar Output Variability
      • Seasonal Variability
      • Long-term Variability (Such as Milankovitch Cycles, Snowball Earth)
    • Anthropogenic Changes (enhanced greenhouse effect, emissions, land use changes)
      • Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Changes to the climate due to greenhouse gas emissions)
      • Land Use Changes (Changes in climate due to changes in land use, such as clearing of forests)

Measuring and Modeling Climate
(Instrumental measurements, proxy data, climate model projections)
    • Climate Data (Instrumental measurements, proxy data, climate model projections)
      • Measurements and Observations (Instrumental measurements or direct observations)
      • Proxy Data (Tree rings, pollen records, corals, etc.)
      • Paleoclimate Records (Ice cores, sediment cores, climate evidence preserved in the geologic record)
    • Global Climate Modeling (Projecting future climates; reconstructing past climates; developing models)
      • Climate Projections (projecting future climate)
      • Climate Reconstructions (Using models to reconstruct past climates)
      • Scenario Development (Developing models of different climate conditions)

Impacts of Climate Change (Includes sea level rise; extreme weather; changes to ecosystems, plants and animals; melting ice and permafrost; ocean wamring; impacts to water resources, agriculture, public health and national security)
    • Sea Level Rise
    • Extreme Weather (Increases in extreme weather intensity and frequency)
      • Heavy Precipitation/Floods
      • Heat Waves
      • Drought
      • Hurricanes
    • Ecosystem Changes (Impacts to ecosystems, such as boreal forests, wetlands, tundra)
    • Plants and Animals (Impacts to plant and animal species)
    • Melting Ice and Permafrost (Includes glacial retreat and thinning)
    • Ocean Warming / Acidification (Includes changes in ocean currents due to warming)
    • Availability of Water Resources
    • Agricultural Changes / Food Security
    • National Security (Includes climate refugees)
    • Public Health
    • Economic Impacts

Human Responses to Climate Change (Includes policy, mitigation, adaptation, risk management, personal responsibility)
    • Mitigation Strategies (Including policy related to mitigation strategies, such as emissions reduction or land use changes)
      • Emissions Reduction (Includes efficiency, conservation, behavior shifts, carbon caps and related policy)
      • Carbon-free Energy (Switching to renewable, nuclear, or other types of energy that do not emit carbon dioxide)
      • Land Use Changes (Such as reforestation; crop management; managing albedo of urban areas)
      • Carbon Capture and Storage (Also called carbon sequestration)
    • Adaptation Strategies (Includes policy related to adaptation strategies)
      • Retrofitting Infrastructure (Adapting existing infrastructures to withstand climate change, such as strengthening coastal buildings)
      • New Infrastructure (Designing new infrastructure such as flood walls)
      • Social Innovation (Novel approaches for adapting to a changing climate)
    • Risk Management
    • Personal Responsibility (Social change; social equity; personal actions)

Nature of Climate Science (Includes the process of science and common misconceptions about climate science)
    • Process of Science
    • Common Misconceptions

Energy Use (Sources of energy, usage trends, conservation, policy)
    • Fossil Fuels
    • Nuclear Energy
    • Solar Energy
    • Wind Energy
    • Other Alternatives (Hydropower, geothermal, tidal, biofuels, etc.)
    • Efficiency and Conservation
    • Carbon Capture and Storage (Also called carbon sequestration)
    • Usage Trends (Trends in energy use)
    • Energy Policy
    • Energy Infrastructure (Includes the electricity grid and all types of energy distribution)

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