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Introduction to Climatology: How Stable is Earth's Climate?


Climate is the sum of all weather events affecting a locale. Climatologists use statistical measures such as means (or 30-year "normals") and extremes to describe a location's climate and proxy data to extend the record into times and places where data are not available.

Many factors influence a locale's climate. Chief among them are latitude, altitude, location with respect to oceans or mountains, local topographic and surface conditions, global winds and ocean currents, and anthropogenic effects.

Climate classification schemes are of two main types: genetic, based on causative factors, and empirical, based on climate data.

According to the empirical system of Köppen and others (Table 13.2 and Figure 13.10), the world's climates fall into six broad categories. The divisions are based on differences in monthly and annual means of temperature and precipitation. Climates of type A are found at and near the equator; climates B, C, D, and E typically occur at successively higher latitudes. The sixth type, labeled H (for highlands), comprises high altitude climates. The six basic types are subdivided according to specifics of monthly mean moisture and temperature data.

It is known that astronomical, geological, oceanic, and anthropogenic factors are likely to have caused or to be causing perturbations in earth's climate. It is also known that in the past, the climate has exhibited instability, changing abruptly from one regime to another. However, in general, we do not know whether a given perturbation will cause the atmosphere to respond in a stable, unstable, or neutral fashion. Much research is in progress on various aspects of this important problem.

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