This flashcard set includes the vocabulary words and definitions from Chp 3: Environmental Systems: Chemistry, Energy, and Ecosystems (Essential Environment 3E by Withgott and Brennan, 2009).

negative feedback loop

a process in which the output of one type acts as input that moves the system in the opposite direction

positive feedback loop

a process in which the output of one type acts as input that moves the system in the same direction; the input and output drive the system further toward one extreme or another


the collective system of rock at and just below the our planet's surface, including the crust and uppermost mantle


the thin layer of gases surrounding planet Earth


Earth's collective system of water - salt and fresh; liquid, ice, and vapor - in surface bodies, underground, and in the atmosphere


the sum total of all the planet's living organisms and the nonliving portions of the environment with which they interact


the process of nutrient enrichment, increased production of organic matter, and subsequent ecosystem degradation in a water body


anything in the universe that has mass and occupies space

law of conservation of matter

states that matter may be transformed from one type of substance into others, but that it cannot be created or destroyed


a fundamental type of matter; a chemical substance with a given set of properties, which cannot be broken down into substances with other properties


the smallest component of an element that maintains the chemical properties of that element


an electrically charged atom or combination of atoms


a combination of two or more atoms


the property of a solution in which the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+) is greater than the concentration of hydroxide ions (OH-)


the property of a solution in which the concentration of hydroxide ions (OH-) is greater than the concentration of hydrogen ions (H+)


an organic compound consisting solely of hydrogen and carbon atoms


a very large chemical, such as a protein, nucleic acid, carbohydrate, or lipid


a macromolecule made up of long chains of amino acids

nucleic acid

a macromolecule that directs the production of proteins; includes DNA and RNA


an organic compound consisting of atoms of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen


one of a chemically diverse group of macromolecules that are classified together because they do not dissolve in water; include fats, oils, waxes, and steroids


the most basic organizational unit of organisms

potential energy

energy of position

kinetic energy

energy of motion

chemical energy

potential energy held in the bonds between atoms

first law of thermodynamics

states that energy can change from one form to another but cannot be created or lost; the total energy in the universe remains constant and is said to be conserved

second law of thermodynamics

states that the nature of energy tends to change from a more ordered state to a less ordered state


an organism that can use the energy from sunlight to produce its own food; includes green plants, algae, and cyanobacteria; also called producers


the process by which autotrophs produce their own food

cellular respiration

the process by which a cell uses the chemical reactivity of oxygen to split glucose into its constituent parts, water and carbon dioxide, and thereby release chemical energy that can be used to form chemical bonds or to perform other tasks within the cell


an organism that consumes other organisms; includes most animals, as well as fungi and microbes that decompose organic matter; also called consumers


all organisms and nonliving entities that occur and interact in a particular area at the same time

net primary production

the energy or biomass of autotrophs that is available for consumption by heterotrophs

landscape ecology

the study of how broad geographic areas affect the abundance, distribution, and interaction of organisms

conservation biology

a scientific discipline devoted to understanding the factors, forces, and processes that influence the loss, protection, and restoration of biological diversity within and among ecosystems

nutrient cycle

the comprehensive set of cyclical pathways by which a chemical substance moves through the environment

carbon cycle

consists of the routes that carbon atoms take through the networks of environmental systems

phosphorus cycle

consists of the routes that phosphorus atoms take through the networks of environmental systems

nitrogen cycle

consists of the routes that nitrogen atoms take through the networks of environmental systems

nitrogen fixation

the process by which inert nitrogen gas combines with hydrogen to form ammonium ions which are chemically and biologically active and can be taken up by plants

hydrologic cycle

the flow of water - in liquid, gaseous, and solid forms - through our biotic and abiotic environment


the conversion of a substance from a liquid to a gaseous form


the release of water vapor by plants through their leaves


water that condenses out of the atmosphere and falls to Earth in droplets or crystals


water held in aquifers underground

water table

the upper limit of groundwater held in an aquifer


the water from precipitation that flows into streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds, and (in many cases) eventually to the ocean


an underground water reservoir

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