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Learn about planets outside our solar system through Exoplanets and Alien Solar Systems by Tahir Yaqoob, Ph.D., a book in our online store book collection.
As the Sun warms the equator more than the poles, climate varies with latitude. This image shows how sea surface temperatures change at different latitudes. Red colors indicate warmer ocean water, blues and purples indicate cooler ocean water.
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Image courtesy of NOAA. Public domain.

What is Climate?

Climate in your place on the globe is called regional climate. It is the average weather pattern in a place over more than thirty years, including the variations in seasons. To describe the regional climate of a place people often describe what the temperatures are like, how windy it is, and how much rain or snow falls. The climate of a region depends on many factors including the amount of sunlight it receives, its altitude, topography, and how close it is to oceans. Since the equatorial regions receive more sunlight than the poles, climate varies with latitude.

However, we can also look at climate at the scale of an entire planet. Global climate is a description of the climate of a planet as a whole, with all the regional variations averaged. Overall, global climate depends on the amount of energy received by the Sun and the amount of energy that is held in the system. These amounts are different for different planets. Scientists who study Earth's climate and climate change study the factors that affect the climate of our whole planet.

While the weather can change in just a few hours, climate changes over longer timeframes. Climate events, like El Nino, happen over several years, small scale fluctuations happen over decades, and larger climate changes happen over hundreds and thousands of years. Today, climates are changing. Our Earth is warming more quickly than it has in the past according to the research of scientists. Hot summer days may be quite typical of climates in many regions of the world, but global warming is causing Earth's average global temperature to increase.

Global warming is actually quite complicated. Earth's global climate is a dynamic system driven by such variables as the amount of solar radiation, chemistry of the atmosphere, amount and types of clouds, and the influence of the biosphere. A change in the temperature can cause changes in other parameters that affect climate such as weather elements like clouds or precipitation.

Last modified August 21, 2013 by Roberta Johnson.

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The Summer 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist, available in our online store, includes articles on rivers and snow, classroom planetariums, satellites and oceanography, hands-on astronomy, and global warming.

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