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Climate is the long-term weather pattern in a region, typically averaged over 30 years. [1] [2] More rigorously, it is the mean and variability of meteorological variables over a time spanning from months to millions of years. Some of the meteorological variables that are commonly measured are temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, and precipitation. In a broader sense, climate is the state of the components of the climate system, including the atmosphere, hydrosphere, cryosphere, lithosphere and biosphere and the interactions between them. [1] The climate of a location is affected by its latitude, longitude, terrain, altitude, land use and nearby water bodies and their currents. [3]


Climates can be classified according to the average and typical variables, most commonly temperature and precipitation. The most widely used classification scheme was the Köppen climate classification. The Thornthwaite system, [4] in use since 1948, incorporates evapotranspiration along with temperature and precipitation information and is used in studying biological diversity and how climate change affects it. The major classifications in Thornthwaite's climate classification are microthermal, mesothermal, and megathermal. [5] Finally, the Bergeron and Spatial Synoptic Classification systems focus on the origin of air masses that define the climate of a region.

Paleoclimatology is the study of ancient climates. Paleoclimatologists seek to explain climate variations for all parts of the Earth during any given geologic period, beginning with the time of the Earth's formation. [6] Since very few direct observations of climate were available before the 19th century, paleoclimates are inferred from proxy variables. They include non-biotic evidence—such as sediments found in lake beds and ice cores—and biotic evidence—such as tree rings and coral. Climate models are mathematical models of past, present, and future climates. Climate change may occur over long and short timescales due to various factors. Recent warming is discussed in terms of global warming, which results in redistributions of biota. For example, as climate scientist Lesley Ann Hughes has written: "a 3 °C [5 °F] change in mean annual temperature corresponds to a shift in isotherms of approximately 300–400 km [190–250 mi] in latitude (in the temperate zone) or 500 m [1,600 ft] in elevation. Therefore, species are expected to move upwards in elevation or towards the poles in latitude in response to shifting climate zones." [7] [8]


Climate (from Ancient Greek κλίμα 'inclination') is commonly defined as the weather averaged over a long period. [9] The standard averaging period is 30 years, [10] but other periods may be used depending on the purpose. Climate also includes statistics other than the average, such as the magnitudes of day-to-day or year-to-year variations. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2001 glossary definition is as follows:

"Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the "average weather", or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system." [11]

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) describes "climate normals" as "reference points used by climatologists to compare current climatological trends to that of the past or what is considered typical. A climate normal is defined as the arithmetic average of a climate element (e.g. temperature) over a 30-year period. A 30-year period is used as it is long enough to filter out any interannual variation or anomalies such as El Niño–Southern Oscillation, but also short enough to be able to show longer climatic trends." [12]

The WMO originated from the International Meteorological Organization which set up a technical commission for climatology in 1929. At its 1934 Wiesbaden meeting, the technical commission designated the thirty-year period from 1901 to 1930 as the reference time frame for climatological standard normals. In 1982, the WMO agreed to update climate normals, and these were subsequently completed on the basis of climate data from 1 January 1961 to 31 December 1990. [13] The 1961–1990 climate normals serve as the baseline reference period. The next set of climate normals to be published by WMO is from 1991 to 2010. [14] Aside from collecting from the most common atmospheric variables (air temperature, pressure, precipitation and wind), other variables such as humidity, visibility, cloud amount, solar radiation, soil temperature, pan evaporation rate, days with thunder and days with hail are also collected to measure change in climate conditions. [15]

The difference between climate and weather is usefully summarized by the popular phrase "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." [16] Over historical time spans, there are a number of nearly constant variables that determine climate, including latitude, altitude, proportion of land to water, and proximity to oceans and mountains. All of these variables change only over periods of millions of years due to processes such as plate tectonics. Other climate determinants are more dynamic: the thermohaline circulation of the ocean leads to a 5 °C (41 °F) warming of the northern Atlantic Ocean compared to other ocean basins. [17] Other ocean currents redistribute heat between land and water on a more regional scale. The density and type of vegetation coverage affects solar heat absorption, [18] water retention, and rainfall on a regional level. Alterations in the quantity of atmospheric greenhouse gases (particularly carbon dioxide and methane determines the amount of solar energy retained by the planet, leading to global warming or global cooling. The variables which determine climate are numerous and the interactions complex, but there is general agreement that the broad outlines are understood, at least insofar as the determinants of historical climate change are concerned. [19] [20]

Climate classification

Worldwide Koppen climate classifications Koppen-Geiger climate classification (1980-2016).png
Worldwide Köppen climate classifications

Climate classifications are systems that categorize the world's climates. A climate classification may correlate closely with a biome classification, as climate is a major influence on life in a region. One of the most used is the Köppen climate classification scheme first developed in 1899. [21]

There are several ways to classify climates into similar regimes. Originally, climes were defined in Ancient Greece to describe the weather depending upon a location's latitude. Modern climate classification methods can be broadly divided into genetic methods, which focus on the causes of climate, and empiric methods, which focus on the effects of climate. Examples of genetic classification include methods based on the relative frequency of different air mass types or locations within synoptic weather disturbances. Examples of empiric classifications include climate zones defined by plant hardiness, [22] evapotranspiration, [23] or more generally the Köppen climate classification which was originally designed to identify the climates associated with certain biomes. A common shortcoming of these classification schemes is that they produce distinct boundaries between the zones they define, rather than the gradual transition of climate properties more common in nature.



Paleoclimatology is the study of past climate over a great period of the Earth's history. It uses evidence with different time scales (from decades to millennia) from ice sheets, tree rings, sediments, pollen, coral, and rocks to determine the past state of the climate. It demonstrates periods of stability and periods of change and can indicate whether changes follow patterns such as regular cycles. [24]


Details of the modern climate record are known through the taking of measurements from such weather instruments as thermometers, barometers, and anemometers during the past few centuries. The instruments used to study weather over the modern time scale, their observation frequency, their known error, their immediate environment, and their exposure have changed over the years, which must be considered when studying the climate of centuries past. [25] Long-term modern climate records skew towards population centres and affluent countries. [26] Since the 1960s, the launch of satellites allow records to be gathered on a global scale, including areas with little to no human presence, such as the Arctic region and oceans.

Climate variability

Climate variability is the term to describe variations in the mean state and other characteristics of climate (such as chances or possibility of extreme weather, etc.) "on all spatial and temporal scales beyond that of individual weather events." [27] Some of the variability does not appear to be caused systematically and occurs at random times. Such variability is called random variability or noise . On the other hand, periodic variability occurs relatively regularly and in distinct modes of variability or climate patterns. [28]

There are close correlations between Earth's climate oscillations and astronomical factors (barycenter changes, solar variation, cosmic ray flux, cloud albedo feedback, Milankovic cycles), and modes of heat distribution between the ocean-atmosphere climate system. In some cases, current, historical and paleoclimatological natural oscillations may be masked by significant volcanic eruptions, impact events, irregularities in climate proxy data, positive feedback processes or anthropogenic emissions of substances such as greenhouse gases. [29]

Over the years, the definitions of climate variability and the related term climate change have shifted. While the term climate change now implies change that is both long-term and of human causation, in the 1960s the word climate change was used for what we now describe as climate variability, that is, climatic inconsistencies and anomalies. [28]

Climate change

Surface air temperature change over the past 50 years. Change in Average Temperature With Fahrenheit.svg
Surface air temperature change over the past 50 years.
Observed temperature from NASA vs the 1850-1900 average used by the IPCC as a pre-industrial baseline. The primary driver for increased global temperatures in the industrial era is human activity, with natural forces adding variability. Global Temperature And Forces With Fahrenheit.svg
Observed temperature from NASA vs the 1850–1900 average used by the IPCC as a pre-industrial baseline. The primary driver for increased global temperatures in the industrial era is human activity, with natural forces adding variability.

Climate change is the variation in global or regional climates over time. [34] It reflects changes in the variability or average state of the atmosphere over time scales ranging from decades to millions of years. These changes can be caused by processes internal to the Earth, external forces (e.g. variations in sunlight intensity) or human activities, as found recently. [35] [36] Scientists have identified Earth's Energy Imbalance (EEI) to be a fundamental metric of the status of global change. [37]

In recent usage, especially in the context of environmental policy, the term "climate change" often refers only to changes in modern climate, including the rise in average surface temperature known as global warming. In some cases, the term is also used with a presumption of human causation, as in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC uses "climate variability" for non-human caused variations. [38]

Earth has undergone periodic climate shifts in the past, including four major ice ages. These consist of glacial periods where conditions are colder than normal, separated by interglacial periods. The accumulation of snow and ice during a glacial period increases the surface albedo, reflecting more of the Sun's energy into space and maintaining a lower atmospheric temperature. Increases in greenhouse gases, such as by volcanic activity, can increase the global temperature and produce an interglacial period. Suggested causes of ice age periods include the positions of the continents, variations in the Earth's orbit, changes in the solar output, and volcanism. [39] However, these naturally caused changes in climate occur on a much slower time scale than the present rate of change which is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases by human activities. [40]

According to the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service, average global air temperature has passed 1.5C of warming the period from February 2023 to January 2024. [41]

Climate models

Climate models use quantitative methods to simulate the interactions and transfer of radiative energy between the atmosphere, [42] oceans, land surface and ice through a series of physics equations. They are used for a variety of purposes, from the study of the dynamics of the weather and climate system to projections of future climate. All climate models balance, or very nearly balance, incoming energy as short wave (including visible) electromagnetic radiation to the Earth with outgoing energy as long wave (infrared) electromagnetic radiation from the Earth. Any imbalance results in a change in the average temperature of the Earth.

Climate models are available on different resolutions ranging from >100 km to 1 km. High resolutions in global climate models require significant computational resources, and so only a few global datasets exist. Global climate models can be dynamically or statistically downscaled to regional climate models to analyze impacts of climate change on a local scale. Examples are ICON [43] or mechanistically downscaled data such as CHELSA (Climatologies at high resolution for the earth's land surface areas). [44] [45]

The most talked-about applications of these models in recent years have been their use to infer the consequences of increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, primarily carbon dioxide (see greenhouse gas). These models predict an upward trend in the global mean surface temperature, with the most rapid increase in temperature being projected for the higher latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere.

Models can range from relatively simple to quite complex. Simple radiant heat transfer models treat the Earth as a single point and average outgoing energy. This can be expanded vertically (as in radiative-convective models), or horizontally. Finally, more complex (coupled) atmosphere–ocean–sea ice global climate models discretise and solve the full equations for mass and energy transfer and radiant exchange. [46]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Causes of climate change</span> Effort to scientifically ascertain mechanisms responsible for recent global warming

The scientific community has been investigating the causes of climate change for decades. After thousands of studies, it came to a consensus, where it is "unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land since pre-industrial times." This consensus is supported by around 200 scientific organizations worldwide, The dominant role in this climate change has been played by the direct emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels. Indirect CO2 emissions from land use change, and the emissions of methane, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases play major supporting roles.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate variability and change</span> Change in the statistical distribution of climate elements for an extended period

Climate variability includes all the variations in the climate that last longer than individual weather events, whereas the term climate change only refers to those variations that persist for a longer period of time, typically decades or more. Climate change may refer to any time in Earth's history, but the term is now commonly used to describe contemporary climate change, often popularly referred to as global warming. Since the Industrial Revolution, the climate has increasingly been affected by human activities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Extreme weather</span> Unusual, severe or unseasonal weather

Extreme weather includes unexpected, unusual, severe, or unseasonal weather; weather at the extremes of the historical distribution—the range that has been seen in the past. Extreme events are based on a location's recorded weather history. They are defined as lying in the most unusual ten percent. The main types of extreme weather include heat waves, cold waves and heavy precipitation or storm events, such as tropical cyclones. The effects of extreme weather events are economic costs, loss of human lives, droughts, floods, landslides. Severe weather is a particular type of extreme weather which poses risks to life and property.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climatology</span> Scientific study of climate, defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time

Climatology or climate science is the scientific study of Earth's climate, typically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of at least 30 years. Climate concerns the atmospheric condition during an extended to indefinite period of time; weather is the condition of the atmosphere during a relative brief period of time. The main topics of research are the study of climate variability, mechanisms of climate changes and modern climate change. This topic of study is regarded as part of the atmospheric sciences and a subdivision of physical geography, which is one of the Earth sciences. Climatology includes some aspects of oceanography and biogeochemistry.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">General circulation model</span> Type of climate model

A general circulation model (GCM) is a type of climate model. It employs a mathematical model of the general circulation of a planetary atmosphere or ocean. It uses the Navier–Stokes equations on a rotating sphere with thermodynamic terms for various energy sources. These equations are the basis for computer programs used to simulate the Earth's atmosphere or oceans. Atmospheric and oceanic GCMs are key components along with sea ice and land-surface components.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Instrumental temperature record</span> In situ measurements that provide the temperature of Earths climate system

The instrumental temperature record is a record of temperatures within Earth's climate based on direct measurement of air temperature and ocean temperature, using thermometers and other thermometry devices. Instrumental temperature records are distinguished from indirect reconstructions using climate proxy data such as from tree rings and ocean sediments. Instrument-based data are collected from thousands of meteorological stations, buoys and ships around the globe. Whilst many heavily-populated areas have a high density of measurements, observations are more widely spread in sparsely populated areas such as polar regions and deserts, as well as over many parts of Africa and South America. Measurements were historically made using mercury or alcohol thermometers which were read manually, but are increasingly made using electronic sensors which transmit data automatically. Records of global average surface temperature are usually presented as anomalies rather than as absolute temperatures. A temperature anomaly is measured against a reference value. For example, a commonly used baseline period is the time period 1951-1980.

This glossary of climate change is a list of definitions of terms and concepts relevant to climate change, global warming, and related topics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate sensitivity</span> Change in Earths temperature caused by changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations

Climate sensitivity is a measure of how much Earth's surface will warm for a doubling in the atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration. In technical terms, climate sensitivity is the average change in global mean surface temperature in response to a radiative forcing, which drives a difference between Earth's incoming and outgoing energy. Climate sensitivity is a key measure in climate science, and a focus area for climate scientists, who want to understand the ultimate consequences of anthropogenic global warming.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate change</span> Current rise in Earths average temperature and its effects

In common usage, climate change describes global warming—the ongoing increase in global average temperature—and its effects on Earth's climate system. Climate change in a broader sense also includes previous long-term changes to Earth's climate. The current rise in global average temperature is more rapid than previous changes, and is primarily caused by humans burning fossil fuels. Fossil fuel use, deforestation, and some agricultural and industrial practices add to greenhouse gases, notably carbon dioxide and methane. Greenhouse gases absorb some of the heat that the Earth radiates after it warms from sunlight. Larger amounts of these gases trap more heat in Earth's lower atmosphere, causing global warming.

The Global Climate Observing System (GCOS) was established in 1992 as an outcome of the Second World Climate Conference, to ensure that the observations and information needed to address climate-related issues are obtained and made available to all potential users. The GCOS is co-sponsored by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the International Council for Science (ICSU). In order to assess and monitor the adequacy of in-situ observation networks as well as satellite-based observing systems, GCOS regularly reports on the adequacy of the current climate observing system to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and thereby identifies the needs of the current climate observing system.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Surface weather observation</span> Fundamental data used for weather forecasts

Surface weather observations are the fundamental data used for safety as well as climatological reasons to forecast weather and issue warnings worldwide. They can be taken manually, by a weather observer, by computer through the use of automated weather stations, or in a hybrid scheme using weather observers to augment the otherwise automated weather station. The ICAO defines the International Standard Atmosphere (ISA), which is the model of the standard variation of pressure, temperature, density, and viscosity with altitude in the Earth's atmosphere, and is used to reduce a station pressure to sea level pressure. Airport observations can be transmitted worldwide through the use of the METAR observing code. Personal weather stations taking automated observations can transmit their data to the United States mesonet through the Citizen Weather Observer Program (CWOP), the UK Met Office through their Weather Observations Website (WOW), or internationally through the Weather Underground Internet site. A thirty-year average of a location's weather observations is traditionally used to determine the station's climate. In the US a network of Cooperative Observers make a daily record of summary weather and sometimes water level information.

This is a list of climate change topics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">IPCC Fifth Assessment Report</span> Intergovernmental report on climate change

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the fifth in a series of such reports and was completed in 2014. As had been the case in the past, the outline of the AR5 was developed through a scoping process which involved climate change experts from all relevant disciplines and users of IPCC reports, in particular representatives from governments. Governments and organizations involved in the Fourth Report were asked to submit comments and observations in writing with the submissions analysed by the panel. Projections in AR5 are based on "Representative Concentration Pathways" (RCPs). The RCPs are consistent with a wide range of possible changes in future anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Projected changes in global mean surface temperature and sea level are given in the main RCP article.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Greenhouse gas</span> Gas in an atmosphere that absorbs and emits radiation at thermal infrared wavelengths

Greenhouse gases are the gases in the atmosphere that raise the surface temperature of planets such as the Earth. What distinguishes them from other gases is that they absorb the wavelengths of radiation that a planet emits, resulting in the greenhouse effect. The Earth is warmed by sunlight, causing its surface to radiate heat, which is then mostly absorbed by greenhouse gases. Without greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the average temperature of Earth's surface would be about −18 °C (0 °F), rather than the present average of 15 °C (59 °F).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of climate change science</span> Aspect of the history of science

The history of the scientific discovery of climate change began in the early 19th century when ice ages and other natural changes in paleoclimate were first suspected and the natural greenhouse effect was first identified. In the late 19th century, scientists first argued that human emissions of greenhouse gases could change Earth's energy balance and climate. The existence of the greenhouse effect, while not named as such, was proposed as early as 1824 by Joseph Fourier. The argument and the evidence were further strengthened by Claude Pouillet in 1827 and 1838. In 1856 Eunice Newton Foote demonstrated that the warming effect of the sun is greater for air with water vapour than for dry air, and the effect is even greater with carbon dioxide.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate change feedbacks</span> Feedback related to climate change

Climate change feedbacks are effects of global warming that amplify or diminish the effect of forces that initially cause the warming. Positive feedbacks enhance global warming while negative feedbacks weaken it. Feedbacks are important in the understanding of climate change because they play an important part in determining the sensitivity of the climate to warming forces. Climate forcings and feedbacks together determine how much and how fast the climate changes. Large positive feedbacks can lead to tipping points—abrupt or irreversible changes in the climate system—depending upon the rate and magnitude of the climate change.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Climate of Africa</span> Climate of the continent

The climate of Africa is a range of climates such as the equatorial climate, the tropical wet and dry climate, the tropical monsoon climate, the semi-arid climate, the desert climate, the humid subtropical climate, and the subtropical highland climate. Temperate climates are rare across the continent except at very high elevations and along the fringes. In fact, the climate of Africa is more variable by rainfall amount than by temperatures, which are consistently high. African deserts are the sunniest and the driest parts of the continent, owing to the prevailing presence of the subtropical ridge with subsiding, hot, dry air masses. Africa holds many heat-related records: the continent has the hottest extended region year-round, the areas with the hottest summer climate, the highest sunshine duration, and more.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Global surface temperature</span> Average temperature of the Earths surface

In earth science, global surface temperature is calculated by averaging the temperatures over sea and land.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Global warming hiatus</span> Period of little Earth temperature change

A global warming hiatus, also sometimes referred to as a global warming pause or a global warming slowdown, is a period of relatively little change in globally averaged surface temperatures. In the current episode of global warming many such 15-year periods appear in the surface temperature record, along with robust evidence of the long-term warming trend. Such a "hiatus" is shorter than the 30-year periods that climate is classically averaged over.

Julie Michelle Arblaster is an Australian scientist. She is a Professor in the School of Earth, Atmosphere and Environment at Monash University. She was a contributing author on reports for which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Arblaster was a lead author on Chapter 12 of the IPCC Working Group I contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report in 2013. She has received the 2014 Anton Hales Medal for research in earth sciences from the Australian Academy of Science, and the 2017 Priestley Medal from the Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society. She has been ranked as one of the Top Influential Earth Scientists of 2010-2020, based on citations and discussion of her work.


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