Koeppen-geiger climate zone                            classifications around the world

What is climate?

"Climate" is a very general term that has a variety of closely related meanings. Usually, "climate" refers to the average, or typical, weather conditions observed over a long period of time for a given area.

For instance, the climate of Wisconsin in the winter is cold, with occasional snow...but warm in the summer with occasional showers and thunderstorms. The climate of the tropical oceans is warm and humid, with occasional showers or thunderstorms, conditions which do not vary much throughout the year.

The above image shows the Koeppen-Geiger world climate zone classifications (click on the image for the full-size version). The Koeppen-Geiger climate zones are mainly determined by temperature, precipitation, and how these two primary weather elements vary throughout the year.

There can be variations in climate from year to year, or one decade to another, one century to another, or any longer time scale. There is much uncertainty -- and controversy -- about what causes climate variations on the longer time scales. Some of the commonly proposed explanations include variations in the total energy output of the sun, variations in sunspot activity, changes in ocean circulation, changes in land characteristics caused by humans, the production of greenhouse gases by mankind's burning of fossil fuels, and the effect of man-made aerosols on how much sunlight is absorbed.
Interesting facts:
WHAT'S NATURAL AND WHAT'S MAN-MADE? The biggest uncertainty in predicting future climate change, including global warming, is knowing what part of observed climate change in the past is natural and what part is man-made. Since climate change -- at least to some extent -- occurs naturally, we don't know how much of the approximate 1 deg. F warming of global-average temperatures in the last century is due to mankind pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere versus the Earth simply coming out of the "Little Ice Age".

This is a controversial subject among scientists, with a majority of scientists believing that warming has been primarily due to humanity's greenhouse gas emissions from burning of fossil fuels. A minority of scientists believe that the warming could be mostly natural, although the reason(s) for such warming remain unclear.
(page last updated 11/27/2010)
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