Shop Windows to the Universe

Hands On Mineral Identification helps you to identify over 14,500 minerals! By M. Darby Dyar, Ph.D. See our DVD collection.
The updated World Map of Köppen-Geiger climate classification (Kottek, M. et al, 2006).
Click on image for full size
Kottek et al., 2006

Regional Climate

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 are determined by other factors, including the latitude and altitude of the region, its topography, large scale atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns, and the region's proximity to large bodies of water. 

Regional climate is closely tied to latitude, because energy received at the surface of the Earth from the Sun is most direct at the equator and most indirect at the poles.  Because of this, the energy from the Sun is spread out over more area at high latitude than at low latitudes. 

Another major factor determining the regional climate is the altitude of a region.  In the Earth's troposphere - the lowest level of the atmosphere - temperature usually decreases with height, so that as you increase in altitude, the temperature decreases. 

Topography, proximity to large bodies of water, and atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns also have a significant impact on regional climate.  For example, the presence of a mountain range will cause the region downwind of the mountain range to have less precipitation than the other side of the mountain.  This is because mountains will cause lift in moist air masses carried by the prevailing winds, leading to precipitation on the side of the mountains facing the prevailing winds.  This leaves less moisture in the air mass available for precipitation on the other side of the mountains.  As a result, "rain-shadow deserts" are common on the downwind side of mountain ranges. 

Water has a high heat capacity, which means that it is very effective at storing energy.  Because of this, areas near the ocean or large lakes tend to have more moderate climates than regions that are far from large bodies of water. This makes regions near the coast to have smaller annual changes in temperature than regions near the interior of continents, far from the ocean. 

Large scale motions in the ocean and atmosphere similarly can impact regional climate.  One example is the Gulf Stream, which carries warmth from the Caribbean up the Atlantic seaboard and up toward northern Europe.  The Gulf Stream is responsible for making the regional climate in the United Kingdom much warmer than would otherwise be expected at that latitude. 

Regional climates have a strong influence on the plants and animals that can live in a particular area.  Plants and animals have adapted to specific environmental conditions, so that while they might do well in some regions, they may not be able to survive in others.  For example, polar bears are well adapted to the high Arctic, but would not survive long in the Atacama Desert.  Tropical plants thrive in the hot and humid tropics, but cannot survive in the winter outside in areas where the temperature drops below freezing. 

In order to categorize regional climates, climate classification schemes have been developed. The figure shows one regional climate classification scheme developed by Wladimir Köppen originally in 1884. 

Last modified August 21, 2013 by Roberta Johnson.

Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!

The Spring 2010 issue of The Earth Scientist focuses on the ocean, including articles on polar research, coral reefs, ocean acidification, and climate. Includes a gorgeous full color poster!

Windows to the Universe Community

News

Opportunities

You might also be interested in:

Cool It! Game

Check out our online store - minerals, fossils, books, activities, jewelry, and household items!...more

Rain Shadow

A rain shadow is a dry region of land on the side of a mountain range that is protected from the prevailing winds. Prevailing winds are the winds that occur most of the time in a particular location on...more

Kingdom Plantae

Kingdom Plantae contains almost 300,000 different species of plants. It is not the largest kingdom, but it is a very important one! In the process known as "photosynthesis", plants use the energy of the...more

The Arctic: Earth's North Polar Region

North of the Arctic Circle (at 66.5°N latitude) you will find the Arctic Ocean surrounded by the continents of Europe, Asia, and North America. You will find the geographic North Pole and the magnetic...more

Atacama Desert

The Atacama Desert is one of the driest places on Earth. The Atacama is in the country of Chile in South America. In an average year, much of this desert gets less than 1 millimeter (0.04 inch) of rain!...more

Tropical Rainforests

Tropical rainforests are home to thousands of species of animals, plants, fungi and microbes. Scientists suspect that there are many species living in rainforests have not yet been found or described....more

Earth's Global Climate

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

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

Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA