Climate is the statistics of weather over long periods of time. It is measured by assessing the patterns of variation in temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, precipitation, atmospheric particle count and other meteorological variables in a given region over long periods of time. Climate differs from weather, in that weather only describes the short-term conditions of these variables in a given region.
Paleoclimatology is the study of ancient climates. Since direct observations of climate are not available before the 19th century, paleoclimates are inferred from proxy variables that include non-biotic evidence such as sediments found in lake beds and ice cores, and biotic evidence such as tree rings and coral. Climate models are mathematical models of past, present and future climates. Climate change may occur over long and short timescales from a variety of factors; recent warming is discussed in global warming. Global warming results in redistributions. For example, "a 3C change in mean annual temperature corresponds to a shift in isotherms of approximately 300400 km in latitude (in the temperate zone) or 500 m in elevation. Therefore, species are expected to move upwards in elevation or towards the poles in latitude in response to shifting climate zones".
The difference between climate and weather is usefully summarized by the popular phrase "Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get." Over historical time spans there are a number of nearly constant variables that determine climate, including latitude, altitude, proportion of land to water, and proximity to oceans and mountains. These change only over periods of millions of years due to processes such as plate tectonics. Other climate determinants are more dynamic: the thermohaline circulation of the ocean leads to a 5 C (9 F) warming of the northern Atlantic Ocean compared to other ocean basins. Other ocean currents redistribute heat between land and water on a more regional scale. The density and type of vegetation coverage affects solar heat absorption, water retention, and rainfall on a regional level. Alterations in the quantity of atmospheric greenhouse gases determines the amount of solar energy retained by the planet, leading to global warming or global cooling. The variables which determine climate are numerous and the interactions complex, but there is general agreement that the broad outlines are understood, at least insofar as the determinants of historical climate change are concerned.
The simplest classification is that involving air masses. The Bergeron classification is the most widely accepted form of air mass classification. Air mass classification involves three letters. The first letter describes its moisture properties, with c used for continental air masses (dry) and m for maritime air masses (moist). The second letter describes the thermal characteristic of its source region: T for tropical, P for polar, A for Arctic or Antarctic, M for monsoon, E for equatorial, and S for superior air (dry air formed by significant downward motion in the atmosphere). The third letter is used to designate the stability of the atmosphere. If the air mass is colder than the ground below it, it is labeled k. If the air mass is warmer than the ground below it, it is labeled w. While air mass identification was originally used in weather forecasting during the 1950s, climatologists began to establish synoptic climatologies based on this idea in 1973.
An oceanic climate is typically found along the west coasts at the middle latitudes of all the world's continents, and in southeastern Australia, and is accompanied by plentiful precipitation year-round.
The Mediterranean climate regime resembles the climate of the lands in the Mediterranean Basin, parts of western North America, parts of Western and South Australia, in southwestern South Africa and in parts of central Chile. The climate is characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters.
The moisture classification includes climatic classes with descriptors such as hyperhumid, humid, subhumid, subarid, semi-arid (values of -20 to -40), and arid Humid regions experience more precipitation than evaporation each year, while arid regions experience greater evaporation than precipitation on an annual basis. A total of 33 percent of the Earth's landmass is considered either arid or semi-arid, including southwest North America, southwest South America, most of northern and a small part of southern Africa, southwest and portions of eastern Asia, as well as much of Australia. Studies suggest that precipitation effectiveness (PE) within the Thornthwaite moisture index is overestimated in the summer and underestimated in the winter. This index can be effectively used to determine the number of herbivore and mammal species numbers within a given area. The index is also used in studies of climate change.