A glacier on Svalbard - What is climate and climatology?

Understanding Climatology: How It Differs From Meteorology and Why It Matters

Weather and climate are getting mixed up quite regularly these days. The aim of this article is to explain what the climate and climatology are. Also, we will go deeper into the differences between climate and climatology and related fields such as meteorology.

It’s understandable that people may confuse weather and climate. The fields are very closely related, as the climate depends on the weather and vice versa. Generally, meteorologists know quite a lot about the climate, whereas climatologists need to have a decent understanding of the weather. Not seldom, climatologists and meteorologists collaborate.

What is the climate?

The climate basically is the average weather in one specific location or area over a certain (long) period of time. Generally, a reference period of 30 years is used to calculate climatological averages. Thirty years is commonly chosen because it is long enough to smooth out extremes that occur in the weather due to (inter)annual variability, but short enough to not be affected too much by changes in the climate system. Climatological averages can tell you how much rain you can typically expect in a month or year in a certain location or what the average temperature for a certain month of the year is.

There are different climate classification systems, of which the Köppen Climate Classification1,2 is the most widely used one. In this system, 5 main climate groups are represented based on seasonal temperature and precipitation characteristics. The five main climate groups are A (tropical), B (arid), C (temperate), D (continental), and E (polar). All climate zones are divided in subgroups. Examples of climates are the humid continental climate (Dfa & Dfb) and Tropical rain forest climate (Af).

Climatological data is generally presented using statistical methods, allowing for the visualization of climatic information through frequency distributions and return periods for specific weather events. Consequently, climatology provides insights into the typical weather patterns expected during specific times of the year. However, it is important to note that climatology cannot predict or guarantee the precise weather events that will occur on specific dates.

Climate table Helsinki
A climatogram of Helsinki A table like this presents climatological data eg what the average temperature or rainfall in a certain month is This figure is created by <a href=httpswwwdaanvandenbroekcommeteo services target= blank rel=noreferrer noopener>Daan van den Broek Meteo Services<a>

Climatology: The study of climate

Climatology is the study of the climate, and therefore also known as climate studies. Generally, climatologists aim to find out how the climate is changing, will change in the future or has changed in the past. Furthermore, the main goal of climatologists is to find out how the climate system works and why the climate changes and varies. Climatological studies typically involve analyzing data, like long-term weather observation datasets, and using models to predict future climate trends. Some applications of climate studies are agriculture, urban planning and natural disaster prevention.

Once more, what are the differences between climate, climatology, weather and meteorology?

Whereas the weather is the current state of the atmosphere in a certain location (like: what is the temperature, is precipitation occurring, etc.), the climate is the average weather over a long period of time. Meteorology is the science of the atmosphere with a focus on weather forecasting. A meteorologist can tell you what the weather tomorrow or the upcoming week approximately will be like, while a climate scientist can for example give you an estimation on how the average summer temperature will change in the next decades. More information on what meteorology and the weather exactly are you can find in this article.

Climate change

The climate has changed in the past and is currently changing as well. The main difference between historical climate change events and the climate change that is occurring nowadays, is that nowadays, the change of the climate is mainly caused by greenhouse gasses that are emitted by humans. This human-induced climate change is also known as anthropogenic climate change. The rate at which the climate is changing due to human activities appears to be way higher than historical climate change events.

The climate in most regions of the Earth is warming (also known as global warming), leading to more frequent and extreme weather events, such as heavy precipitation or drought. However, the extent of these changes varies by region. And remember: since the weather is the current state of the atmosphere and the climate is the average weather, cold extremes can still occur in a warm climate! Cold events are likely to become more rare in most regions, but when extreme cold occurs, this is not proof that climate change is not happening, since the average temperature is still rising in most regions of the earth.

Conclusion

In conclusion, understanding the distinctions between climate, climatology, and meteorology is essential for comprehending how the Earth’s atmospheric system functions. While climate refers to the long-term average weather conditions in a specific area, climatology is the study of these conditions and their variations. Meteorology, on the other hand, focuses on the short-term forecasting of weather events. As the world faces the pressing issue of climate change, primarily driven by human activities, gaining a deeper knowledge of climatology becomes increasingly important. By studying climatology, we can make informed decisions about agriculture, urban planning, and natural disaster prevention, and better address the challenges posed by our changing climate. Awareness and comprehension of climatology will play a vital role in shaping the future of our planet and ensuring its sustainability for generations to come.

A glacier on Svalbard - What is climate and climatology?
Just for illustration the Longyearbreen glacier on Svalbard Glaciers are heavily impacted by the climate In cold climates they generally grow and when the climate warms they shrink

References:

  1. Beck, H.E., Zimmermann, N.E., McVicar, T.R., Vergopolan, N., Berg, A. and Wood, E.F., 2018. Present and future Köppen-Geiger climate classification maps at 1-km resolution. Scientific data5(1), pp.1-12.
  2. Köppen, W. and Geiger, R. eds., 1930. Handbuch der klimatologie (Vol. 1). Berlin: Gebrüder Borntraeger.
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