Climate is all about patterns of weather. We find out more about the different climates on our planet and what causes them to be different from each other.
When you hear the words “weather” and “climate” you might think they mean the same thing – but they’re quite different!
It might be rainy today or it might be sunny – that’s the weather. But climate is the pattern of weather in a place over a much longer time.
Different parts of the world have very different patterns of weather. The Earth’s climate is driven by energy from the sun which arrives in the form of heat. Half of this energy travels through our atmosphere and reaches the Earth’s surface.
The other half is either absorbed by the atmosphere or reflected back into space. Because the Earth is a sphere, the sun’s rays reach the earth’s surface in polar regions at a much more slanted angle than at equator. So straight away, we know that the Poles are colder than the Equator.
When things aren’t in balance, nature likes to even things out. So the extra energy at the Equator needs to be spread across the planet and it’s this that creates different climate zones across the world.
Warm air rises at the equator and moves toward the poles. Where warm, wet air rises, we get thunderstorms and tropical rainforests. Where air sinks, it stops clouds from forming – so it rains less, even making deserts.
How many climate zones are there and how do they differ?
Around the Equator we have tropical climates which are hot and humid, this is where you’ll find the world’s rainforests.
Then there are arid or dry climates – like you’d find in deserts.
Next is Mediterranean with hot dry summers, and cooler wetter winters.
Then there are temperate climates. That’s what we have in the UK, where summers are mild and winters aren’t too cold.
In areas that are a very long way from the sea, the climate is continental with long, cold winters and short, hot summers.
Finally, there’s polar climates which experience long periods of extreme cold.
You might have been to countries like France and Italy, in the Mediterranean, where they have lots of snow in winter – and some of their mountains are even snow covered all year round.
But they also have beautiful beaches – great fun during the hot and dry summers. So if you’ve got both snow covered mountains and hot beaches, does that mean they don’t have a Mediterranean climate?
No, it just means that local climates in a country can be different to the region’s climate. This can be for lots of reasons – high places like mountains tend to be colder because the air is cooler the higher you go.
What else can affect local climates?
Vegetation can also affect the local climate we experience. In equatorial rainforests, dense vegetation blocking the wind combined with high temperatures and rainfall means it’s a very humid place to be! Where there’s no vegetation, the air can be much drier and the wind can blow.
In busy cities, the air temperature is often warmer than the surrounding countryside, particularly at night-time. This is due to buildings and roads absorbing heat during the day, and giving it off at night.
Another thing that can affect a local climate is the wind! It might be that part of a country frequently catches wind from another region – this is called a prevailing wind. If it’s coming from a hotter place, this might raise temperatures, or if it’s from a colder area, it’ll cause the local temperature to drop.
The oceans also have a part to play in influencing our weather and climate.
But just because a place has one climate doesn’t mean it won’t change.
Climate scientists take measurements over long periods of time to track patterns in temperature and rainfall. These help us know what to expect today and in the future but are also a great way to see what changes have happened in the past.
It’s amazing to think that 20,000 years ago the UK would have been in the Ice Age, and our climate here would have been similar to the Polar climates that we see today! Cold enough to have a pet polar bear!
You can hear Marina Ventura’s Climate Explorers weekdays from 5pm on Fun Kids!
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Marina Ventura’s Climate Explorers with support from the Natural Environment Research Council.