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.
Click on image for full size
Image courtesy of NOAA. Public domain.
What Is Climate?
The climate where you live is called regional climate. It is the average weather in a place over more than thirty years. To describe the regional climate of a place, people often tell what the temperatures are like over the seasons, 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 height above sea level, the shape of the land, and how close it is to oceans. Since the equator receives more sunlight than the poles, climate varies depending on distance from the equator.
However, we can also think about the climate of an entire planet. Global climate is a description of the climate of a planet as a whole, with all the regional differences averaged. Overall, global climate depends on the amount of energy received by the Sun and the amount of energy that is trapped 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. The amount of solar radiation, the chemistry of the atmosphere, clouds, and the biosphere all affect Earth's climate.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
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.
You might also be interested in:
The climate at a given location on Earth is the regional climate. Regional climate depends on the temperature, precipitation, and winds experienced over the long term at that location. These characteristics...more
Places located at high latitudes (far from the equator) receive less sunlight than places at low latitudes (close to the equator). The amount of sunlight and the amount of precipitation affects the types...more
Earth's climate is determined by the amount of energy received from the Sun and the amount of energy held in the Earth system - in short, Earth's radiation budget. The Sun emits an enormous amount of...more
Climate change refers to changes in global or regional climate determined over a long term - typically a minimum of 30 years. A short-term weather event such as an intense storm or heat wave are a normal...more
Some of the factors that have an affect on climate, like volcanic eruptions and changes in the amount of solar energy, are natural. Others, like the addition of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, are...more
Studying tree rings doesn't only tell us the age of that tree. Tree rings also show what climate was like for each year of a tree's life, which means they can tell us about climates of the past and about...more
Energy from the Sun is very important to the Earth. The Sun warms our planet, heating the surface, the oceans and the atmosphere. This energy to the atmosphere is one of the primary drivers our weather....more