Initial Publication Date: July 5, 2011

Climatology Basics


Wind, rain, heat, and fogall are examples of weather that we experience in our daily lives. In this lab you will investigate two questions: What are the complex forces that are driving this weather and, ultimately, climate? How do they work together? In the previous lab, you examined the role of the Sun's energy in heating Earth and its atmosphere. You learned how solar radiation supplies the energy needed to move the wind and create the weather. In this lab, you will carry that knowledge further and learn more details about the intricate climate system. As stated in earlier labs, the primary controls of climate are: incoming solar radiation, Earth's revolution and rotation, the character of the surface of the Earth, and the composition of the atmosphere.

While we think of weather as largely an atmospheric phenomenon, in reality, weather and climate are a result of the interaction of all of the Earth systems. The land surface (geosphere), ocean water and lakes (hydrosphere), and even the plants (biosphere) combine forces with the incoming solar radiation to influence, or drive, the weather and climate. Weather is a short-term, relatively localized event. It happens on time scales of minutes to days, while climate, on the other hand, emerges slowly as long-term patterns of weather become established.

Take a moment to study the diagram on the above-right; what climate patterns emerge? Even a superficial study of a map like this demonstrates that there are patterns of climate that appear to be related to geographic location.

In this Lab, you'll learn more about global, regional, and local weather (and climate) drivers. As you move from large-scale global climate drivers to regional and finally local weather patterns, you will get a sense of the large and small, fast and slow, forces that drive the daily weather that we experience. You will develop an understanding of the complexity of the interacting forces that work together to create the predictable patterns that we know as climate.

After completing this Lab, you should be able to:
  • describe and identify the three spatial scales of weather and climate drivers: global, regional, and local; and
  • compare and contrast the time scales of weather and climate.

Keeping Track of What You Learn

In these pages, you'll find three kinds of questions.
  • Checking In questions are intended to keep you focused on key concepts. They allow you to check if the material is making sense. These questions are often accompanied by hints or answers to let you know if you are on the right track.
  • Stop and Think questions are intended to help your teacher assess your understanding of the key concepts and skills. These questions require you to pull some concepts together or apply your knowledge in a new situation.
  • Discuss questions are intended to get you talking with your neighbor. These questions require you to pull some concepts together or apply your knowledge in a new situation. There is no right answer to these questions; just something to ponder.
Your teacher will let you know which questions you should answer and turn in.