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AIR BLADDERS:  the balloon-like pockets of air found on the blades of some heavier seaweed (algae). These air pockets allow the blades to float near the water's surface to capture the sunlight needed for photosynthesis.

ALGAE:  simple 'plants' that have chlorophyll and photosynthesize. They do not have true stems, roots, or leaves. They range from microscopic, single cells (like diatoms) to large, multi-celled forms (like kelp). Single-celled algae are not plants but protists (Kingdom Protista) and many biologists classify all algae in the Protista kingdom.

AQUATIC:  any organisms that lives in or near the water.

ARCHAEOLOGY:  the study of ancient people and their cultures as revealed by the items (artifacts) they left behind.

ARTHROPODS:  invertebrates of the phylum Arthropoda that have jointed appendages and a chitinous, segmented exoskeleton. Arthropods include insects, spiders, crabs, and lobsters.


BACKSHORE:  the dry part of a beach lying closest to land that is only covered with water during the highest tides or severe storms.

BACTERIA (IUM):  single-celled microorganisms that belong to the kingdom Monera. Bacteria are among the smallest, simplest, and oldest types of cells.

BANK:  ground that is higher than the lake, river, or sea it borders.

BARNACLE ZONE:  one of the life zones on the rocky shore; also called the white zone for the color of the barnacles that dominate this part of the shore. This zone is exposed to air for about half of the day.

BARRIER BEACH:  a sandy beach (or spit) that cuts off a lagoon (salt pond) from the ocean. Barrier beaches are different from barrier islands in that one or both ends of the beach is connected to the mainland.

BATTERY:  a military fort or defensive wall that is equipped with artillery.

BEACH:  the sandy or pebbly part of the shore of an ocean, sea, or lake that is washed by the tide and waves. This is where the land meets the water.

BEACH FACE:  the section of a beach between the high and low water (tide) levels. Waves break on this part of the beach.

BEACON:  a guiding or warning signal; as from a lighthouse.

BERM:  the part of a beach that slopes up from the water to form a nearly flat area. A berm is caused by waves depositing sediments during high or storm tides.

BIVALVE:  the type of mollusk (Phylum Mollusca) that has two hinged shells (valves). Bivalves include clams, mussels, and scallops.

BLACK ZONE:  the uppermost life zone on the rocky shore. This zone is distinguished by the thin, black layer of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) growing on the rocks above the high tide (water) line. This zone is sometimes called the splash zone because the only water it receives is from the splash of waves hitting the rocks below.

BLADE:  the leaf-like part of algae (seaweed).

BOW DRILL:  a hand-held tool used by Native Americans. This drill was made out of a sapling that was forced into a bow shape, a straight branch, and sinew that connected the two together. The straight branch had a metal tip on one end that was used to drill holes in such things as clam shells. (See the history of the salt pond for a illustration of the bow drill.)

BREACHWAY:  a natural or manmade inlet that cuts through a barrier island/beach, connecting the coastal lagoon (salt pond) to the ocean.

BRECCIA:  a type of sedimentary rock that is made of angular fragments of rock or mineral.

BYSSAL THREADS:  the strong fibers that mussels produce to attach themselves to rocks or hard surfaces.


CAMBRIAN:  the period of geological time that began about 570 million years ago and ended about 470 million years ago.

CAMOUFLAGE:  a means of disguise that allows organisms to blend in with their background so that they are hidden or concealed.

CNIDARIA:  phylum of aquatic invertebrates (formerly called Coelenterata) that includes Hydra, jellyfish, sea anemones, and corals. These animals have stinging cells on their tentacles and can occur in different body forms. They may be free-swimming medusa and/or attached polyps hydroids).

COASTAL LAGOON:  an enclosed body of brackish or salt water that is cut off from the ocean by a barrier beach.

CRUSTACEANS:   a class of mainly aquatic, gill-breathing arthropods such as crabs, lobsters, shrimp, and barnacles. They usually have a hard exoskeleton and two pairs of antennae.

CTENOPHORE:  another name for comb jellies (Phylum Ctenophora). These marine animals have a gelatinous body and no backbone. Even though they look similar to jellyfish (Cnidarians), they do not have stinging cells. They get their name from the 8 rows of cilia that look like combs.

CULVERT:  a drain pipe that crosses beneath a road.


DECOMPOSE:  to rot or break down in decay.

DEFORMATION:  the ways in which the rocks that make up the outer layer of the earth's crust respond to geologic forces. Tension, compression, and gravity are some of the forces acting on the crust. Folds and faults are the most common examples of deformation.

DUNE:  an elongated hill or mound of sand formed by the wind.


ECHINODERMS:   a large group of invertebrates that have radial symmetry and no heads (Phylum Echinodermata). All are marine and benthonic (live on or in the bottom). They have an internal skeleton and a special network of water-filled canals that move their tube feet. Sea stars, sea urchins, and sea cucumbers are all echinoderms.

EROSION:  the wearing away of the surface of the earth (soil and rock) by wind, moving water, ice, or organisms.

ESTUARY:  a semi-enclosed body of water where freshwater meets and mixes with saltwater. Narragansett and Chesapeake Bays are both examples of estuaries.

EUTROPHICATION:  the process of polluting a body of water with excessive nutrients, such as sewage or fertilizers. The nutrients cause an excessive growth of algae that leads to oxygen being depleted from the water (result of the decomposition of the algae).

EXOSKELETON:  external skeleton; the hard skeleton that forms the external surface of some animals. The exoskeleton protects, supports, and provides a place for muscles to attach. Some mollusks, tortoises, and arthropods (such as crabs, lobsters, barnacles, and shrimp) have exoskeletons.


FAULT:  a break or fracture in the rock layers in the earth's crust. The rock layers are displaced or offset from one another on each side of the fracture.

FAUNA:  the animals that live in a specific environment or place.

FLORA:  the plants that live in a specific place or environment.

FOLD:  deformed layers of rock in the earth's crust that were originally flat but are now bent or warped into a wave-like shape.

FORMATION:  a set of rocks that are or once were horizontal, share some distinctive features, and are large enough to be mapped.

FORESHORE:  the section of a beach that stretches from the flat area below the low-tide level to the top of the high-tide water level.

FRY:  recently hatched fish; very young fish.


GASTROPODS:  one-shelled mollusks (Phylum Mollusca, Class Gastropoda). These univalve invertebrates have a coiled shell, a flattened foot, and a well developed head with tentacles. Snails, limpets, conchs, whelks, and slugs are all gastropods.

GEOLOGY:  the study of the origin, structure, and composition of the earth.

GIS:  this abbreviation stands for Geographic Information System. GIS is a combination of computer software and hardware tools used for creating maps and analyzing spatial data. GIS links the map and database information so that questions can be asked and answers given in map or visual form.


HABITAT:  the place or environment where a plant or animal lives.

HOLDFAST:  the root-like part of a seaweed. The holdfast attaches the seaweed to a hard surface.


IGNEOUS:  one of the three types of rock that make up the earth's crust; this type of rock is formed when magma crystalizes after cooling. Granite and basalt are examples of igneous rocks.

INTERTIDAL:  area of the shore between the highest and lowest tides.

INTRUSION:  any type of molten igneous rock that has forced its way into the surrounding, solid rock.

INVERTEBRATES:  animals without a backbone. At least 97% of all animal species are invertebrates; with the exception of insects, most invertebrates are marine species.

IRISH MOSS ZONE:  one of the life zones of the rocky shore. This lower intertidal area is submerged most of the time and is exposed to the air only during very low tides. This zone is dominated by the red algae, Irish moss.


JETTY:  a structure made of rocks or concrete that extends from the shore into the ocean. These structures are usually built to protect a harbor entrance or to block the shore currents.


KELP ZONE:  the lowest or most seaward life zone of rocky shore. This zone is always submerged and extends seaward as far as light can penetrate. The kelp zone is identified by the large, leathery, brown kelp that grows there.

KING PHILIP:  an seventeenth century chief (sachem) of the Native American Wampanoag tribe. Metacomet was called King Philip by the English settlers because of his eloquence as a speaker. While the English believed that the native tribes should be under colonial control, Metacomet encouraged his and other tribes to struggle for their independence in a series of battles called King Philip's War.


LAGOON:  a shallow, sheltered body of water that is separated from the sea by a barrier island, sand bar, or coral reef.

LEEWARD:  the side of anything facing away from the wind.


MAGMA:  hot, molten (liquid) material that comes from the earth's crust or mantle and forms igneous rock when it cools and solidifies. Silica is the major ingredient in magma.

MAGNETITE:  black mineral that has magnetic properties and is made of iron oxide.

METAMORPHIC ROCK:  one of the three types or classes of rocks. Metamorphic rocks are formed when sedimentary, igneous, or older metamorphic rocks undergo physical (textural) or chemical changes that have caused by heat, pressure, or chemical reactions.

MICA:  a silicate mineral that forms thin transparent sheets.

MIGRATE:  the periodic or regular movement of animals from one place to another. Often animals migrate to feed or breed.

MINNOW TRAP:  a specialized trap or enclosure to capture small fish, such as minnows, by attracting them to the bait in the trap.

MOLLUSKS:  invertebrates in the Mollusca phylum; these animals have a soft, unsegmented body and are bilaterally symmetrical. Most have a muscular foot, calcareous shell, and gills. This phyla includes terrestrial as well as fresh and salt water forms. Common examples are clams, snails, slugs, and octopuses.

MOLT:  to periodically shed hair, feathers, outer skin, or horns with the cast off parts being replaced by newly grown replacements.

MORAINE:  glacial deposits of rock, gravel, or other sediments left at the margins of an ice sheet.

MUDFLAT:  a muddy flat intertidal area that is covered by water at high tide and exposed to the air at low tide. Mud flats form at the edge of salt marshes or at the mouths of estuaries.


NATURAL SORTING:  process where sediments are sorted by their size and weight. Heavier, larger-sized sediment particles fall out of the water or wind first, forming a layer of like-sized particles. The lighter, smaller particles fall out later, forming a layer on top of the heavier, larger particles.

NEAP TIDE:  tides occurring near the first and last quarter moons of each month when the range of the tide is the least.

NIANTIC:  group of Native American people who lived in the coastal areas of Rhode Island.

NINIGRET:  the seventeenth century leader (sachem) of the Niantic tribe. Ninigret was a contemporary of Metacomet, also known as King Philip.


OFFSHORE:  the area of the shore that extends from the foreshore into the water to where wave action no longer affects the bottom.

ORGANISM:  any living individual, whether it is a protist, plant, or animal.

OUTWASH:  the sediments (usually gravel, sand, and silt) deposited by the melt water streaming from a melting glacier.


PALEOZOIC:  one of four major divisions (eras) of geologic time. The Paleozoic is the second era of geologic time that lasted from 570 million till about 225 million years before the present.

PEAT: the dark-brown or black plant remains produced by the partial decomposition of vegetation in wet places, such as swamps or marshes. Peat deposits contains more than 50% carbon. If the deposits are buried, the heat and pressure may turn the peat into coal.

PELAGIC: organisms that swim or drift in the water, these organisms are distinct from those living on the bottom.

PERIWINKLE ZONE: the second highest (from land) life zone found on the rocky shore. Periwinkles are abundant in this part of the rocky intertidal shore but since they are mobile, this zone is often indistinct. For this reason, some biologists don't include this as one of the life zones on the rocky shore.

PHYLLITE: a light or dark-colored metamorphic rock similar to slate but more coarsely-grained and more metamorphosed. It is thinly layered with lustrous cleavage planes (from tiny pieces of mica).

PLANKTON: pelagic organisms that drift or float passively in the water and are carried wherever currents and tides take them. Plankton are often microscopic and are an important food source for other aquatic community. There are two types of plankton- phytoplankton (plants and autotrophs) and zooplankton (animals).

POLYCHAETE: annelid or segmented worms that have flat extensions with stiff, sometimes sharp, bristles sticking outward from each body segment (Phylum Annelida, Class Polychaeta). Most marine worms are polychaetes.

PRIMARY DUNE: the dune (or dunes) closest to the water (shore) that is the largest and takes the brunt of wave and wind action.

PYRITE: a brassy yellow, cubic shaped mineral also known as 'Fool's Gold'.


QUADRAT: an ecological sampling tool that makes it possible to compare numbers and types of organisms from different parts of a habitat. A quadrat is a square frame of any size that can be placed randomly or along a transect line. The organisms within the square are counted or measured.

QUARTZ: a crystalline silica mineral; widely found in many types of rocks.


REFUGE: shelter or protection from danger.

REFUSE HEAPS: mounds of empty shells and debris that were discarded by earlier inhabitants.

RESTORATION: the act of bringing something back to its original state.

ROCKWEED ZONE: a life zone at the intertidal area of a rocky shore. This life zone is submerged at every high tide and is dominated by brown seaweed, such as knotted wrack and rockweed. For this reason this zone is often called the brown zone.


SACHEM: term used by native New Englanders for a leader or chief.

SALINITY: the total amount of salt dissolved in seawater; the units most often used are parts per thousand (ppt) but practical salinity unit (psu) is now the accepted standard in oceanography. An average salinity value for seawater is 35 ppt (psu) or 35 parts of salt in 1000 parts of water.

SALT POND: New Englander's term for a coastal lagoon; a body of salt or brackish water that is located behind a barrier beach or island and is connected to the sea by a natural (temporary) or man-made (permanent) opening called a breachway.

SAND BAR: a ridge of sand formed just off shore by currents or tides.

SAPLING: a young tree.

SEAWEED: any of the larger (multicellular) forms of algae that live in the ocean.

SECONDARY DUNE: the dunes that form on the leeward or landward side of the primary dunes. The conditions are less severe (not so windy or salty) and the elevation is lower in secondary dunes.

SEDIMENTARY ROCK: one of the three major types or classes of rock that form the earth's crust. Sedimentary rocks form when sediments accumulate and are then consolidated. Sedimentary rocks are formed either from pieces of pre-existing rock or are precipitated chemically. Sandstone and shale are examples of sedimentary rocks formed from pieces of other rocks and evaporites and coal are examples of precipitated sedimentary rocks.

SEINE: rectangular net used to collect fishes or other animals from shallow water; also called a beach seine. One of the long sides of the net is weighted and the other long side has floats. The net is pulled through the water by the short sides so that the side with floats rides on the surface and the weighted side moves along the bottom.

SEPTIC SYSTEM: an underground system that breaks down sewage from homes. Septic systems are used where homes are not hooked up to a city (municipal) sewer system. The system includes a septic tank where solid sewage is broken down by bacteria and a leach field into which water flows from the tank.

SESSILE: an animal that lives permanently attached to the bottom or to a surface.

SINEW: animal tendon used like thread to string beads or sew.

SLOPE: the upward or downward slant of land.

SPECIES: a group of similar individuals that can breed among themselves.  A biological category used to classify organisms.

SPIT: a sand bar that is connected to land on one end.

SPRING TIDES: tides of greater than average tidal range that occur twice a month at the new and full moons.

STRAND LINE: line of debris on a beach that is roughly parallel to the water's edge and marks the highest point reached by the tide. The dead algae and other materials marking the strand line were left on the beach by the ebbing tide.

STRATIFICATION: the forming of layers.

SUBTIDAL: the area of the shore bottom that is always covered by water and is never exposed at low tide.


TERMINAL MORAINE: the hill of till left at the end or terminus of a glacier that marks the glacier's furthest point of advance.

TERRESTRIAL: organisms living or found on land.

THALLUS: a simple plant body, such as multicellular algae, that is not differentiated into stem and leaves.

TIDE: the daily rising and falling of the ocean's surface. This change in the water's height is caused by the combined gravitational pull of the moon and sun on the earth's surface.

TIDE CHART: a list showing the times each day when the tide will be high or low.

TIDE POOL: a low spot in the rocks or sand that holds seawater when the tide is out.

TILL: the mixture of sediments (rocks, sand, clay, and soil) of various sizes deposited by a glacier as it melts.

TRANSECT LINE: a straight line across a section of ground along which ecological measurements are taken at intervals.

TRILOBITE: an extinct group of marine arthropods that lived from 590 to 280 million years ago. Trilobites were small (usually) benthic scavengers.

TUNICATE: marine invertebrates that are also chordates (Phylum Chordata). They have a sac-like body and don't move because they attach to the bottom or a surface (like boats and docks). They're commonly called sea squirts.


UNIVALVE: a one shelled mollusk; gastropod.

UPLAND: land above sea level, particularly land some distance from the sea.


VERTEBRATE: animals with backbones (vertebral columns) and whose brain is encased in a skull; Vertebrata is a the largest subphylum of Chordata.


WAMPUM: beads made from two types of shells. The white beads were made from Northern whelk shells and the purple beads were made from quahog (clam) shells.

WATERSHED: a region or area drained by a particular body of water.

WEATHERING: the processes that decay or break up rocks by a combination of physically fracturing or chemically decomposing them.

WETLANDS: areas that are covered by water at least part of the year. These areas have a specific type of soil, can be covered by either fresh or salt water, and are heavily vegetated.


ZONATION: series of life zones that indicate the presence of organisms within a particular range of time or space.

ZONE: a geographic area where only certain organisms live.