Science Vocabulary

Chapter 1 Science Vocabulary


  1. geology – the study of the origin, history, and structure of the Earth and the processes that shape the Earth
  2. oceanography – the scientific study of the sea
  3. meteorology – the scientific study of the Earth’s atmosphere, especially in relation to weather and climate
  4. astronomy – the study of the universe
  5. scientific methods – a series of steps followed to solve problems
  6. hypothesis – an explanation that is based on prior scientific research or observations and that can be tested
  7. model – a pattern, plan, representation, or description designed to show the structure or workings of an object, system, or concept
  8. theory – an explanation that ties together many hypotheses and observations
  9. meter – the basic unit of length in the SI
  10.  volume – a measure of the size of a body or region in three-dimensional space
  11.  mass – a measure of the amount of matter in an object
  12.  temperature – a measure of how hot (or cold) something is; specifically, a measure of the average kinetic energy of the particles in an object
  13.  area – a measure of the size of a surface or a region
  14.  density – the ratio of the mass of a substance to the volume of the substance






Chapter 2 Science Vocabulary


  1. map – a representation of the features of a physical body such as Earth
  2. true north – the direction to the geographic North Pole
  3. magnetic declination – the difference between the magnetic north and the true north
  4. latitude – the distance north or south from the equator’ expressed in degrees
  5. equator – the imaginary circle halfway between the poles that divides the Earth into the Northern and Southern hemisphere
  6. longitude – the distance east and west from the prime meridian; expressed in degrees
  7. prime meridian – the meridian, or line of longitude, that is designated as 0 degrees longitude
  8. cylindrical projection – a map projection that is made by moving the surface features of the globe onto a cylinder
  9. conic projection – a map projection that is made by moving the surface features of the globe onto a cone
  10. azimuthal projection – a map projection that is made by moving the surface features of the globe onto a plane
  11. remote sensing – the process of gathering and analyzing information about an object without physically being in touch with the object
  12. topographic map – a map that shows the surface features of Earth
  13. elevation – the height of an object above sea level
  14. contour line – a line that connects points of equal elevation
  15. contour interval – the difference in elevation between one contour line and the next
  16. relief – the variations in elevation of a land surface
  17. index contour – on a map, a darker, heavier contour line that is usually every fifth line and that indicates a change in elevation


Chapter 3 Science Vocabulary


  1. mineral – a naturally formed, inorganic solid that has a definite chemical structure
  2. element – a substance that cannot be separated or broken down into simpler substances by chemical means
  3. compound – a substance made up of atoms of two or more different elements joined by chemical bonds
  4. crystal – a solid whose atoms, ions, or molecules are arranged in a definite pattern
  5. silicate mineral – a mineral that contains a combination of silicon, oxygen, and one or more metals
  6. nonsilicate mineral – a mineral that does not contain compounds of silicon and oxygen
  7. luster – the way in which a mineral reflects light
  8. streak – the color of the powder of a mineral
  9. cleavage – the splitting of a mineral along smooth, flat surfaces
  10. fracture – the manner in which a mineral breaks along either curved or irregular surfaces
  11. hardness – a measure of the ability of a mineral to resist scratching
  12. density – the ration of the mass of a substance to the volume of the substance
  13. ore – a natural material whose concentration of economically valuable minerals is high enough for the material to be mined profitably
  14. reclamation – the process of returning land to its original condition after mining is completed





Chapter 4 Science Vocabulary


  1. rock cycle – the series of processes in which a rock forms, changes from one type to another is destroyed, and forms again by geological processes
  2. rock – a naturally occurring solid mixture of one or more minerals or organic matter
  3. erosion – the process by which wind, water, ice, or gravity transports soil and sediment from one location to another
  4. deposition – the process in which material is laid down
  5. composition – the chemical makeup of a rock’ describes either the minerals or other materials in the rock
  6. texture – the quality of a rock that is based on the sizes, shapes, and positions of the rock’s grains
  7. intrusive igneous rock – rock formed from the cooling and solidification of magma beneath the Earth’s surface
  8. extrusive igneous rock – rock that forms as a result of volcanic activity at or near the Earth’s surface
  9. strata – layers of rock
  10. stratification – the process in which sedimentary rocks are arranged in layers
  11. foliated – describes the texture of metamorphic rock in which the mineral grains are arranged in planes or bands
  12. nonfoliated – describes the texture of metamorphic rock in which the mineral grains are not arranged in planes or bands






Chapter 5 Science Vocabulary


  1. natural resource – any natural material that is used by humans, such as water, petroleum, minerals, forests, and animals
  2. renewable resource – a natural resource that can be replaced at the same rate at which the resource is consumed
  3. nonrenewable resource – a resource that forms at a rate that is much slower than the rate at which it is consumed
  4. recycling – the process  of recovering valuable or useful materials from waste or scrap; the process of reusing some items
  5. fossil fuel – a nonrenewable  energy resource formed from the remains of organisms that lived long ago
  6. petroleum – a liquid mixture of complex hydrocarbon compounds; used widely as a fuel source
  7. natural gas – a mixture of gaseous hydrocarbons located under the surface of the Earth, often near petroleum deposits; used as a fuel
  8. coal – a fossil fuel that forms underground from partially decomposed plant material
  9. acid precipitation – rain, sleet, or snow that contains a high concentration of acids
  10. smog – photochemical haze that forms when sunlight acts on industrial pollutants and burning fuels
  11. nuclear energy – the energy released by a fission or fusion reaction; the binding energy of the atomic nucleus
  12. chemical energy – the energy released when a chemical compound reacts to produce new compounds
  13. solar energy – the energy received by the Earth from the sun in the form of radiation
  14. wind power – the use of a windmill to drive an electric generator
  15. hydroelectric energy – electrical energy produced by falling water
  16. biomass – organic matter that can be a source of energy; the total mass of the organisms in a given area
  17. gasohol – a mixture of gasoline and alcohol that is used as a fuel
  18. geothermal energy –the energy produced by heat within the Earth

Chapter 6 Science Vocabulary

  1. uniformitarianism- A principle that states that geologic processes that occurred in the past can be explained by current geologic processes.
  2. catastrophism- a principle that states that geologic change occurs suddenly.
  3. paleontology- the scientific study of fossils.
  4. relative dating- any method of determining whether an event or object is older or younger than other events or objects.
  5. superposition- a principle that states that younger rocks lie above older rocks if the layers have not been disturbed.
  6. geologic column- an arrangement of rock layers in which the oldest rocks are at the bottom.
  7. unconformity- a break in the geologic record created when rock layers are eroded or when sediment is not deposited for a long period of time.
  8. absolute dating- any method of measuring the age of an event or object in years.
  9. isotope- an atom that has the same number of protons (or the same atomic number) as other atoms of the same element do but that has a different number of neutrons (and thus a different atomic mass)
  10. radioactive decay- the process in which a radioactive isotope tends to break down into a stable isotope tends to break down into a stable isotope of the same element or another element.
  11. radiometric dating- a method of determining the age of an object by estimating the relative percentages of a radioactive (parent) isotope and a stable (daughter) isotope.
  12. half-life- the time needed for half of a sample of a radioactive substance to undergo radioactive decay.
  13. fossil- the remains or physical evidence of an organism preserved by geological processes.
  14. trace fossil- a fossilized mark that is formed in soft sediment by the movement of an animal.
  15. mold- a mark or cavity made in a sedimentary surface by a shell or other body.
  16. cast- a type of fossil that forms when sediments fill in the cavity left by a decomposed organism.
  17. index fossil- a fossil that is found in the rock layers of only one geologic age and that is used to establish the age of the rock layers.
  18. geologic time scale- the standard method used to divide the Earth’s long natural history into manageable parts.
  19. eon- the largest division of geologic time.
  20. era- a unit of geologic time that includes two or more periods.
  21. period- a unit of geologic time into which eras are divided.
  22. epoch- a subdivision of a geologic period.
  23. extinction- the death of every member of a species

Chapter 7 Science Vocabulary

  1.  crust-The outermost layer of the Earth.
  2. mantle-The layer of the Earth between the crust and the core.
  3. core-The layer of the Earth that extends from below the mantle to the center of the Earth.
  4. lithosphere-The solid, outer layer of the Earth that consists of the crust and the rigid upper part of the mantle.
  5. asthenosphere- The soft layer of the mantle on which the tectonic plates move.
  6. mesosphere-The strong, lower part of the mantle between the asthenosphere and the outer core.
  7. tectonic plate- A block of lithosphere that consists of the crust and the rigid, outermost part of the mantle.
  8. continental drift- is the hypothesis that states that the continents once formed a single landmass, broke up, and drifted to their present locations.
  9. sea-floor spreading- the process by which new oceanic lithosphere forms as magma rises toward the surface and


  10. plate tectonics- the theory that explains how large pieces of the Earth’s outermost layer, called tectonic plates, move and change shape.
  11. convergent boundary- the boundary formed by the collision of two lithospheric plates.
  12. divergent boundary- the boundary between two tectonic plates that are moving away from each other.
  13. transform boundary- the boundary between tectonic plates that are sliding past each other horizontally.
  14. compression- stress that occurs when forces act to squeeze an object.
  15. tension-stress that occurs when forces act to stretch an


  16. folding-the bending of rock layers due to stress.
  17. fault- a break in a body of rock along which one block slides relative to another.

Chapter 8 Science Vocabulary

  1. seismology- the study of earthquakes
  2. deformation- the bending, tilting, and breaking of the Earth’s crust; the change in the shape of rock in response to stress.
  3. elastic rebound- the sudden return of elastically deformed rock to its undeformed shape.
  4. seismic wave- a wave of energy that travels through the Earth, away from an earthquake in all directions.
  5. P wave- a seismic wave that causes particles of rock to move in a back-and-forth motion.
  6. S wave- a seismic wave that causes particles of rock to move in a side-to-side direction.
  7. seismograph- an instrument that records vibrations in the ground and determines the location and strength of an earthquake.
  8. seismogram- a tracing of earthquake motion that is created by a seismograph.
  9. epicenter- the point on Earth’s surface directly above an earthquake’s starting point, or focus.
  10. focus- the point along a fault at which the first motion of an earthquake occurs.
  11. gap hypothesis- a hypothesis that is based on the idea that a major earthquake is more likely to occur along the part of an active fault where no earthquakes have occurred for a certain period of time.
  12. seismic gap- an area along a fault where relatively few earthquakes have occurred recently but where strong earthquakes have occurred in the past.

Chapter 9 Science Vocabulary

  1. Volcanoes- are areas of Earth’s surface through which magma and volcanic gases pass
  2. Magma chamber- the body of molten rock that feeds a volcano
  3. Vent- an opening at the surface of the Earth through which volcanic material passes
  4. Crater- a funnel-shaped pit near the top of the central vent of a volcano
  5. Caldera- a large semicircular depression that forms when the magma chamber below a volcano partially empties and causes the ground above to sink
  6. Lava plateau- a wide, flat landform that results from repeated non-explosive eruptions of lava that spread over a large area
  7. Rift zone- an area of deep cracks that forms between two tectonic plates that are pulling away from each other
  8. Hot spot- a volcanically active area of Earth’s surface far from a tectonic plate boundary

Chapter 10 Science Vocabulary

  1. weathering- The process by which rock materials are broken down by the action of physical and chemical processes.
  2. mechanical weathering- The breakdown of rock into smaller pieces by physical means.
  3. chemical weathering- the process by which rocks break down as a result of chemical reactions.
  4. acid precipitation- rain, sleet, or snow that contains a high concentrations of acids.
  5. differential weathering- The process by which softer, less weather resistant rocks wear away and leave harder, more weather resistant rocks behind.
  6. soil- a loose mixture of rock fragments, organic material, water and air that can support the growth of vegetation.
  7. parent rock- a rock formation that is the source of soil.
  8. bedrock- the layer of rock beneath the soil.
  9. soil texture- the soil quality that is based on the proportions of soil particles.
  10. soil structure- the arrangement of soil particles.
  11. humus- the dark, organic material formed in soil from the decayed remains of plants and animals.
  12. leaching- the removal of substances that can be dissolved from rock, ore, or layers of soil due to the passing of water.
  13. soil conservation- a method to maintain the fertility of the soil by protecting the soil from erosion and nutrient loss.
  14. erosion- the process by which wind, water, ice, or gravity transport soil and sediment from one location to another.
  15. abrasion- the grinding and wearing a way of rock surfaces through the mechanical action of other rock or sand particles.

Chapter 11 Science Vocabulary

  1. erosion- the process by which wind, water, ice, or gravity transports sols and sediment from one location to another.
  2. water cycle- the continuous movement of water from the ocean to the atmosphere to the land and back to the ocean.
  3. tributary- a stream that flows into a lake or into a larger stream.
  4. watershed- the area of land that is drained by a water system.
  5. divide- the boundary between drainage areas that have streams that flow in opposite directions.
  6. channel- the path that a stream follows.
  7. load- the materials carried by a stream.
  8. deposition- the process in which material is laid down.
  9. delta- a fan-shaped mass of material deposited at the mouth of a stream.
  10. alluvial fan- a fan-shaped mass of material deposited by a stream when the slope of the land decreases sharply.
  11. floodplain- an area along a river that forms from sediments deposited when the river overflows its banks.
  12. water table- the upper surface of underground water; the upper boundary of the zone of saturation.
  13. aquifer- a body of rock or sediment that stores groundwater and allows the flow of groundwater.
  14. porosity- the percentage of the total volume of a rock or sediment that consists of open spaces.
  15. permeability- the ability of a rock or sediment to let fluids pass through its open spaces, or pores.
  16. recharge zone- an area in which water travels downward to become part of an aquifer.
  17.  artesian spring- a spring whose water flows from a crack in the cap rock over the aquifer.
  18. point-source pollution- pollution that comes from a specific site.
  19. nonpoint-source pollution- pollution that comes from many sources rather than from a single, specific site.
  20.  septic tank- a tank that separates solid waste from liquids and that has bacteria that breaks down the solid waste.

Chapter 12 Science Vocabulary

  1. shoreline- the boundary between land and a body of water.
  2. beach- an area of the shoreline made up of material deposited by waves.
  3. saltation- the movement of sand or other sediments by short jumps and bounces that is caused by wind or water.
  4. deflation- a form of wind erosion in which fine, dry soil particles are blown away.
  5. abrasion- the grinding and wearing away of rock surfaces through the mechanical action of other rock or sand particles.
  6. loess- very fine sediments deposited by the wind.
  7. dune- a mound of wind deposited sand that keeps its shape even though it moves.
  8. glacier- a large mass of moving ice.
  9. glacial drift- the rock material carried and deposited by glaciers.
  10. till- unsorted rock material that is deposited directly by a melting glacier.
  11. stratified drift- a glacial deposit that has been sorted and layered by the action of streams or meltwater.
  12. mass movement- a movement of a section of land down a slope.
  13. rock fall- a group of loose rocks that fall down a steep slope.
  14. landslide- the sudden movement of rock and soil down a slope.
  15. mudflow- the flow of a mass of mud or rock and soil mixed with a large amount of water.
  16. creep- the slow downhill movement of weathered rock material.

Chapter 13 Science Vocabulary

  1. salinity- A measure of the amount of dissolved salts in a given amount of liquid.
  2. water cycle- The continuous movement of water through the atmosphere, to the land, and back to the ocean.
  3. continental shelf- The gently sloping section of the continental margin located between the shoreline and the continental slope.
  4. continental slope- the steeply inclined section of the continental margin located between the continental rise and the continental shelf.
  5. continental rise- The gently sloping section of the continental margin located between the continental slope and the abyssal plain.
  6. abyssal plain- a large, flat, almost level area of the deep-ocean basin.
  7. mid-ocean ridge- a long, undersea mountain chain that forms along the floor of the major oceans.
  8. rift valley- a long narrow valley that forms as tectonic plates separate.
  9. seamount- a submerged mountain on the ocean floor that is at least 1,000 m high and that has a volcanic origin.
  10. ocean trench- a steep, long depression in the deep-sea floor that runs parallel to a chain of volcanic islands or a continental margin.
  11. plankton- the mass of mostly microscopic organisms that float or drift freely in freshwater and marine environments.
  12. nekton- all organisms that swim actively in open water, independent of currents.
  13. benthos- the organisms that live at the bottom of the sea or ocean.
  14. benthic environment- the region near the bottom of a pond, lake, or ocean.
  15. pelagic environment- in the ocean, the zone near the surface or at middle depths, beyond the sublittoral zone and above the abyssal zone.
  16. desalination- a process of removing salt from ocean water.
  17. nonpoint-source pollution- pollution that comes from many sources rather than from a single, specific site.
  18. point-source pollution- pollution that comes from a specific site.

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