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Royal Geographical Society (with IBG): the heart of geography
Glossary A - C
Glossary D - F
Glossary G - I
Glossary J - L
Glossary M - O
Glossary P - R
Glossary S - U
Glossary V - Z

Glossary S - U

S Wave  
A secondary wave during an earthquake that moves perpendicular to the primary wave or the main wave of energy.

Salinisation 
The accumulation of soluble salts within soil which has the effect of reducing soil fertility.

Saltation 
The bouncing of material from and along a river bed or a land surface.

Saltwater Intrusion 
The movement of saline water into freshwater aquifers as a result of over extraction of freshwater from sources.

Sand Bar 
An offshore, linear landform composed of deposited material; typically only exposed at low tide, if at all.

Sanitation  
A state of hygienic living which involves not coming into contact with harmful waste and having access to clean water in order to wash oneself and one's surroundings.

Science Park 
An area of high tech industrial development, often set up in collaboration with a centre of higher education.

Scramble for Africa 
The period between 1880-1900 characterised by the rapid invasion, occupation and colonisation of the African continent by European powers.

Sea Breeze  
A breeze blowing towards the land from the sea caused by land being heated up more quickly than water.

Sea Wall 
A wall or embankment built on the edge of a coastline to prevent erosion caused by wave action.

Seasonal Employment 
Working conditions where employment is only guaranteed for part of the year, for example, in the tourism industry.

Secondary Effects  
An action or event that was caused indirectly by another, primary effect

Secondary Industry 
The section of industry concerned with manufacture of goods from raw materials.

Secondary Succession 
The sequence of changes within a ecosystem community whereby vegetation colonises an area of land where it had previously existed.

Sediment 
Materials that have entered a river system as a result of erosion and which can be deposited in slow moving water or at the river’s mouth.

Sedimentary Rock 
Rock composed of sediments - mostly from pre-existing rocks which have been broken up and transported by water, wind or glacier ice and subsequently deposited in layers.

Seismic Gap Theory 
A theory that looks at the points along a known active fault line where no earthquake activity has occurred in order to predict future earthquakes.

Seismograph 
A scientific instrument used to measure the duration, magnitude and direction of earthquakes.

Set Aside
A section of farmland that under the Common Agricultural Policy was left fallow so that over production and lower prices for farm produce was avoided.

Settlement  
A location where people have built structures and formed communities.

Settlement Function  
The central or main purpose a settlement has economically or culturally.

Settlement Hierarchy  
A way of arranging settlements based on the theory that the smallest size settlement occurs in the highest numbers.

Sex Ratio 
The ratio of male to female babies born in a country.

Shanty Town 
An area of informal, often unplanned and illegal, housing built by its residents on the outskirts of a city using basic or waste materials and offering a very poor quality of life.

Shield Volcano  
A volcano formed when successive eruptions of free-flowing lava create a gently sloping dome of multiple layers.

Shifting Cultivation 
A system of farming where land is cleared for cultivation, left fallow when it has lost its fertility and returned to after a period of time.

Shingle 
Small, rounded pebbles that are usually found on the beach.

Silt 
A muddy or clay sediment deposited by rivers.

Sinuosity  
The degree to which a river meanders within its valley, calculated by dividing total stream length by valley length.

Site 
The position of a settlement on the ground.

Situation
The location of a settlement in relation to other physical and human features.

Six Figure Grid Reference 
A notation used to locate a precise point on a map by a series of six numbers that refer to a position on a map's grid.

Skilled Labour 
Work that involves the use of labour that has a degree of training in that particular field.

Slant Drilling  
An illegal technique whereby an oil rig drills at an angle beneath a country's border and takes oil from under the ground of a neighbouring nation.

Slip-off Slope 
The relatively gentle slope at the inner edge of a meander and the site of point-bar deposits.

Slum 
An informal urban settlement characterised by substandard housing and quality of life which is often heavily populated.

Slump 
A form of mass movement where loose rock layers move down a slope over a relatively short distance.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) 
Typically small and low lying island nations that tend to share similar development challenges.

Smallholder 
A farmer who owns just a small plot of land and usually only uses it to sustain the food needs of their own family.

Smart city 
An urban space that utilises the use of digital and web based technology in order to become more sustainable.

Snow Drift 
A mass of snow shaped by the wind into a mound during a snowstorm or left in place after an avalanche.

Snow Line 
The altitude at which snow and ice are permanent ground cover.

Snow Slab 
A large, packed section of snow that moves as one unit during an avalanche.

Social Darwinism 
A concept which models human society evolution over time by emphasising the struggle for existence of each society, alongside the survival of the fittest of them.

Social Mobility 
The ability to create more social and economic opportunities for oneself by becoming more educated or by gaining wealth.

Social Stigma 
A disgrace felt by someone in a community because they are socially different or have chosen socially different circumstances for themselves.

Soft Engineering 
Measures taken to prevent the impact of a natural hazard or phenomenon by means of non-physical structures, such as education programmes or designed social changes.

Soil Acidification 
The process by which soil pH decreases over time.

Soil Creep 
The slow mass movement of soil, scree or glacier ice downslope.

Soil Degradation 
A process by which soil has an altered nutrient composition as a result of negative human activity and is no longer able to sustain the same vegetation community.

Soil Erosion 
The wearing away and break up of earth by natural and human factors.

Soil Fertility 
The ability of a soil to provide nutrients for plant growth.

Soil Profile 
The variation in soil characteristics through its depth.

Soil Structure 
The grouping of soil particles to form aggregates and peds and the ability of these particles to hold together.

Solar Constant 
The amount of energy received per unit area from the sun over a given period of time.

Solar Farm  
An area of land which is either covered in solar panels or reflecting light to a central panel and generating energy for its locality.

Solar Power  
The conversion of sunlight into electricity using photovoltaic cells or concentrated solar power.

Solution 
A form of transportation process whereby a fluid (usually water or carbonic acid, as the solvent) picks up and dissolves particles of a solid (the solute).

Source 
The point and place from which a river originates.

Sovereign Rights 
The power of a governing body to govern itself without any interference from outside sources or bodies.

Species 
A classification of living organisms which are capable of interbreeding and producing fertile offspring.

Species Adaptation 
The action associated with changing ones behaviour to better cope with the demands of a changing natural phenomena.

Species Colonisation 
The spread of plants and animals into areas where they were not previously found.

Sphere of Influence 
The maximum distance a person is willing to travel in order to access the goods and services on offer from a settlement.

Spit 
A formation of deposited sand and shingle that joins the coast at one end.

Spring line Settlement  
A settlement which occurs where a band of permeable rock lies on top of impermeable rock, creating a formation where water is forced to the surface.

Spur 
A sand and mud based formation made from the deposition of material during long shore drift and when a coast line suddenly changes direction.

Stack 
A coastal landform consisting of a steep, often vertical column of rock formed by the erosion of an arch.

Stalagmites 
A deposit of calcium carbonate found on cave floors, often beneath stalactites above, formed by fallen drips of water releasing carbon dioxide and allowing calcium carbonate to precipitate.

Stalactites 
A deposit of calcium carbonate found hanging from cave ceilings formed by water dripping releasing carbon dioxide and allowing calcium carbonate to precipitate.

Stationary Population Pyramid 
A population pyramid which shows a country has a low birth rate and a low death rate.

Stem Flow 
The movement of water from the roots of a plant through to its leaves.

Steppe 
A biome characterised by low lying treeless grassland with a semi-arid climate.

Stevenson Screen  
A shelter for meteorological instruments that prevents readings from being affected by external influences such as wind, rain or leaves.

Stewardship 
The act of being employed to manage another’s property or land, often in a certain way.

Storm Hydrograph  
A graphical chart that compares the precipitation during a flood event with the river discharge over time.

Structural Adjustment Policies (SAP) 
A series of loans provided by the IMF and the World Bank to help countries though economic crises and enable them to reduce their day to day running cost imbalances.

Studentification 
The physical and cultural take over of an area by university student accommodation and services.

Stump 
The final standing part of the cliff following the erosion of a headland and formed when a stack topples into the sea.

Subclimax 
A stage just prior to an ecological community reaching the phase of climatic climax, where there is an extended phase of succession.

Subduction 
The downward and sideways movement of one tectonic plate under another and into the mantle.

Subduction Zone  
The point at a destructive plate boundary where rocks of an oceanic plate are forced below much thicker continental crust.

Subsidence 
The motion of the Earth's surface towards sea level, often speeded up by disruption to underlying soil and rocks by building and mining works.

Subsidence  
The gradual caving or sinking of an area of land.

Subsidy 
A financial support offered to a person, group of people, or business to promote a particular social or economic policy.

Subsistence Farming 
The growing of crops to feed oneself and one's family, with a little left over for sale.

Suburb  
An area of a city at some distance from the centre which operates as a separate, often residential, area.

Suburbanisation 
The outward growth of urban development which may start to engulf smaller villages located nearby.

Succession 
The gradual and orderly process of ecosystem development brought about by changes in community composition.

Sunspot 
A dark area that is visible on the surface of the Sun which causes an increase in the solar radiation received on Earth .

Super Volcano  
A volcano capable of producing a volcanic eruption with an ejecta volume great than 1000km3 and thousands of times larger than normal volcanic eruptions.

Superpower 
A powerful and influential nation that holds a dominant position within international politics.

Supply Shock 
An event that can suddenly increase or decrease the cost of supplying goods and services to a locality.

Surface Run Off 
Water from rain, snowmelt or other sources that flows over the land surface.

Sustainable 
Development that aims to increase standards of living without destroying the environment while safeguarding natural resources for future generations.

Sustainable Energy  
Energy sources which can be controlled by humans in such a way that they will not run out, such as fuel wood.

Swash 
The movement of water up the beach away from the sea as a wave reaches the shore.

Sweatshop Labour 
The poorly paid, long hours and poor conditions endured by people working on the factory floor in some manufacturing industries.

Synoptic Chart  
A weather map which gives a general view of meteorological conditions over a large area in a given time by the use of isobars.

Tar Sand  
A combination of sand, clay, water and bitumen.

Target Species 
The fish species that is the intended catch by fishermen and that which they will sell once landed at port.

Tariff 
A tax imposed by a government on imported or exported goods.

Tarn 
A small mountain lake formed in a cirque excavated by a glacier.

Technological Leapfrogging 
The process by which a developing country invests in the most up to date technology rather than in lower grade technology that other developed countries are also rejecting.

Technoscape 
A landscape dominated by high-tech industry or architecture.

Terminal Moraine 
Ridges of unconsolidated debris deposited at the snout or end of a glacier.

Terracette 
A small soil terrace, formed by soil creep on a slope of around 50m across and comprised of closely spaced ridges of earth.

Territory 
An area of land that falls under the control of another state or country.

Tertiary Industry 
The section of industry concerned with providing a service to people.

Thalweg 
An artificial line that follows the line of the fastest flow within a river channel.

Thermal Expansion 
An increase in the volume of matter that happens in response to an increase in temperature.

Thermohaline Circulation 
The movement of warm and cold water around the network of the Earth's seas and oceans.

Through flow 
The flow of water down a slope through the soil subsurface.

Tidal Power  
Energy that is produced by turbines under the sea as the tides move back and forth across them.

Time-Space Convergence 
The idea that due to increasing technological efficiency, the time it takes to travel over space is decreasing, making places appear nearer than they are.

Tombolo 
A depositional landform connecting an island to the mainland by a narrow piece of land comprised of sand or shingle.

Top-Down (Decision Making) 
A process by which decisions are made about the lives of the weakest and poorest by those with the most power, and often, money.

Topography 
The shape and features of the Earth's surface.

Tourism  
Travelling to a new destination for the purpose of recreation and leisure.

Traction 
A transportation process by which large boulders and rocks roll along the bed of a river with the flow of the water.

Trade Agreements 
Rules established in the way buying or selling of goods and services occurs nationally and internationally.

Trade Bloc 
A group of nations united for the common action of free trade and within which limited or no trade tariffs operate.

Trade Deficit 
An economic condition which comes about when a country is importing more goods than it is exporting.

Trade Unions 
Organisations formed to protect the interests, such as pay and working conditions, of employees within an organisation or industry.

Trade Winds 
The prevailing pattern of winds found closest to the Earth's surface.

Traditional Culture 
A familiar behaviour pattern that is passed from one generation to the next over a long period of time.

Traditional Fuel  
An energy source which uses collected wood or homemade charcoal as its base.

Tragedy of the Commons 
An economic theory that occurs when individuals neglect the well-being of society in the pursuit of personal gain and particularly in the depletion of resources.

Tranquillity 
A sense of peace and calm within a place.

Transboundary Water  
Water courses such as rivers and stores such as lakes or aquifers that cross international boundaries and have the potential to cause conflict over their use.

Transnational Companies (TNCs) 
Companies that operate in more than country.

Transpiration 
The process by which water is carried through plants from their roots to their stomata on the underside of their leaves.

Transverse Fault 
A fault that strikes obliquely or perpendicular to the general trend of the region.

Trawling 
The dragging of a large net behind a boat (trawler) in order to catch fish, most often in the mid-depths of the ocean.

Treaty 
An agreement between countries and bound by international law.

Tributary 
A stream or river that flows into a larger river or lake.

Trickle-Down 
The idea of wealth (or changes in behaviour) making its way through society from those in most power to those at the bottom of society hierarchically.

Trophic Level 
The level an organism holds within a food chain.

Tropic 
A line of latitude denoting the most northerly (the Tropic of Cancer) and most southerly (the
Tropic of Capricorn) overhead paths of the sun.

Tropical Rainforest 
A forest biome characterised by high annual rainfall and high average annual temperature, evergreen vegetation and the highest rate of net primary productivity of any biome.

Tropical Storm  
An area of extreme low pressure characterised by high velocity rotational winds and heavy rainfall.

Troposphere 
The lower layer of the atmosphere extending from the surface to the tropopause, containing almost all atmospheric water vapour and where most weather happens.

Truncated Spur 
A protrusion of land into a U shaped valley, formed when a glacier erodes the end off an interlocking spur.

Tsunami  
A large wave or series of waves caused by an earthquake in a sea which displaces the water above.

Turbine 
A bladed wheel driven by water, steam or wind in order to generate electricity.

U Shaped Valley 
A glacial formation created when a glacier travels down a slope, carving out a U shape by eroding the tips of valley spurs.

Unconventional Natural Gas 
Gas that is more difficult or less economical to extract.

Underdevelopment 
An economic status where a country has either regressed or not reached its possible development potential.

Underemployment 
An economic condition where people are forced to take jobs for which they are overqualified due to a slump in the job market.

Under population 
A situation where there are insufficient people in a population to make the best economic use out of the resources available.

UNESCO 
United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation

Unilateral Aid 
Aid that is given directly from one country to another without the involvement of other parties.

United Nations 
An association of countries set up in 1945 to promote peace, security and co-operation between different countries.

Upwelling 
The movement of an ocean current from the sea bed up to the surface.

Urban Heat Island  
A phenomenon where a city or town is noticeably warmer than the surrounding countryside due to the built structure of the settlement and the activities that take place there.

Urbanisation 
A growth in the geographical size of urban areas as a result of increased population.

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