The updated World Map of Köppen-Geiger climate classification (Kottek, M. et al, 2006).
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Kottek et al., 2006

Regional Climate

The climate at a given location on Earth is the regional climate.  Regional climate depends on the temperature, precipitation, and winds experienced over the long term at that location. These characteristics are determined by other factors, including the latitude and altitude of the region, its topography, large scale atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns, and the region's proximity to large bodies of water. 

Regional climate is closely tied to latitude, because energy received at the surface of the Earth from the Sun is most direct at the equator and most indirect at the poles.  Because of this, the energy from the Sun is spread out over more area at high latitude than at low latitudes. 

Another major factor determining the regional climate is the altitude of a region.  In the Earth's troposphere - the lowest level of the atmosphere - temperature usually decreases with height, so that as you increase in altitude, the temperature decreases. 

Topography, proximity to large bodies of water, and atmospheric and oceanic circulation patterns also have a significant impact on regional climate.  For example, the presence of a mountain range will cause the region downwind of the mountain range to have less precipitation than the other side of the mountain.  This is because mountains will cause lift in moist air masses carried by the prevailing winds, leading to precipitation on the side of the mountains facing the prevailing winds.  This leaves less moisture in the air mass available for precipitation on the other side of the mountains.  As a result, "rain-shadow deserts" are common on the downwind side of mountain ranges. 

Water has a high heat capacity, which means that it is very effective at storing energy.  Because of this, areas near the ocean or large lakes tend to have more moderate climates than regions that are far from large bodies of water. This makes regions near the coast to have smaller annual changes in temperature than regions near the interior of continents, far from the ocean. 

Large scale motions in the ocean and atmosphere similarly can impact regional climate.  One example is the Gulf Stream, which carries warmth from the Caribbean up the Atlantic seaboard and up toward northern Europe.  The Gulf Stream is responsible for making the regional climate in the United Kingdom much warmer than would otherwise be expected at that latitude. 

Regional climates have a strong influence on the plants and animals that can live in a particular area.  Plants and animals have adapted to specific environmental conditions, so that while they might do well in some regions, they may not be able to survive in others.  For example, polar bears are well adapted to the high Arctic, but would not survive long in the Atacama Desert.  Tropical plants thrive in the hot and humid tropics, but cannot survive in the winter outside in areas where the temperature drops below freezing. 

In order to categorize regional climates, climate classification schemes have been developed. The figure shows one regional climate classification scheme developed by Wladimir Köppen originally in 1884. 

Last modified August 21, 2013 by Roberta Johnson.

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