card
295

climate

OLogy Series
geology
card
295

climate

OLogy Series
geology

Winter brings snow and ice in places like northern Minnesota. But during the same season along Florida's beaches, temperatures rarely drop below freezing. These two locations have very different climates. Climate is the typical weather of particular region over many years. Scientists can describe the global climate by observing long-term weather patterns around the world.

Our Planet's Five Spheres

Earth's climate is a complex system influenced by five "spheres." Each sphere affects climate in its own way. And in turn, each sphere is affected by climate.

There's the atmosphere, or the air around us. This blanket of gases surrounding Earth is usually associated with weather and climate. And it is closely tied with the four other spheres.

The hydrosphere includes all of Earth's water--its oceans, lakes, and rivers.

The geosphere is the land, including all the rocks and soil of the continents.

The cryosphere is ice and snow, from glaciers to vast regions of sea ice at the poles.

Finally, there's the biosphere, or the life on Earth. This includes organisms from the tiniest bacteria to towering trees to humans.

Which of the following information would describe the climate of Tucson, Arizona?

annual precipitation

current temperature

last month's average temperature

Are you right?

Correct!

Climate data includes average, long-term information such as annual precipitation, annual average temperatures, and annual relative humidity. To understand Tucson's climate, scientists would look at this data over many years.

Climates near the equator are warmer than those near the poles. That's because the equator:

is closer to the Sun

receives more direct sunlight

receives less precipitation

Are you right?

Correct!

The Sun's rays strike the equator head-on, but strike the poles at an angle. During certain times of the year, the poles receive no sunlight at all! As a result, the equator is hotter than the poles.

Scientists investigate paleoclimate to understand climate change. Paleoclimate is:

Earth's past climates

Earth's present climate

Earth's future climates

Are you right?

Correct!

Scientists can determine temperatures, precipitation, and even carbon dioxide levels of past climates. They find clues in tree rings, corals, glacial ice,
deep-sea and lake sediments, and even stalactites and stalagmites in caves.

The climate of a place can change from day to day.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

Weather can change from day to day, from hot and sunny to cool and cloudy. Climate describes the typical weather for a long time. Climate can change over many years.

An intense heat wave in a normally cooler climate is a sign that the climate is changing.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fiction

No single event like a heat wave or snowstorm determines a region's climate. Climate depends on average, typical weather conditions over many years.

The Sun drives the climate by warming the air, land, and sea.

Fact
or
Fiction
?

Fact

Some parts of Earth get more sunlight than others. But ocean currents and air currents distribute this heat from the tropics to the poles.

Definition: the average, long-term weather conditions in an area
Descriptions: warm, cool, dry, moist, windy
Factors: Sun's energy, latitude, ice cover, landmasses, greenhouse gases in atmosphere
Cool Fact: Scientists can determine carbon dioxide levels of past climates by studying ice cores. Ice cores are samples of ancient ice drilled from deep within glaciers.

Image credits: AMNH / NOAA / Gerald and Buff Corsi (c) California Academy of Sciences.