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?
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.
Shop Windows to the Universe Science Store!
The Winter 2009 issue of The Earth Scientist
, focuses on Earth System science, including articles on student inquiry, differentiated instruction, geomorphic concepts, the rock cycle, and much more!
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
Latitude determines the amount of sunlight received. The amount of sunlight and the amount of moisture received determines the ecosystem or biome. Listed below are the types of ecosystems that exist in...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 a tremendous amount of...more
Climate change refers to changes in global or regional climate determined over a long term - typically a minimum of 30 years. Individual short-term weather events such as an intense storm or heat wave...more
A factor that has an affect on climate is called a “forcing.” Some forcings, like volcanic eruptions and changes in the amount of solar energy, are natural. Others, like the addition of greenhouse gases...more
Anyone who has ever cut down a tree is familiar with the rings radiating out from the center of a tree trunk marking the tree's age. Careful study of tree rings can offer much more: a rich record of history...more
Energy from the Sun is one of the primary drivers of the Earth system. The Sun warms our planet, heating the surface, the oceans and the atmosphere. This energy feeds atmospheric processes and is a primary...more