INSTANT EXPERT: CLIMATE ZONES
Sunlight heats Earth but is not evenly distributed. The regions around the Equator receive much more sunlight and so more heat than the polar regions. The temperature differences and varying precipitation have produced different climate zones, which are c
Become knowledgeable about how climate works on a planetary scale!
Earth depends on the huge quantity of energy that flows to us from the Sun. Every square metre facing the Sun constantly receives 1,366 watts, and the total quantity is 180,000 times larger than the total power generation capacity of the US. The Sun heats Earth, and together with the natural greenhouse effect, this provides Earth with an average temperature of 14 degrees.
However, the heat is not evenly distributed. Earth’s axis of rotation inclines 21.5-24.5 degrees as compared to Earth’s orbit around the Sun. The sunlight shines directly on the Equator, whereas it shines more indirectly on polar regions – i.e. one square metre of Earth’s surface in the polar regions receives much less sunlight than one square metre in the tropics. Due to Earth’s curve, the distance to the Equator determines the temperature, and together with precipitation, this forms the basis of climate zones and their varied vegetation.
Climate zones are defined in different ways. Most are based on climatologist Wladimir Köppen’s work in the 1920s and compare average temperatures and precipitation to the dominant vegetation of the region. The distance to the Equator and to the closest ocean and a region’s altitude above sea level are important factors for the local climate.
Mountains produce their own small climate zones, making sure that snow can fall on the Equator. In the tropics, ice-covered peaks with no vegetation rise above valleys with tropical forests including fragile vegetation that does not tolerate temperatures below zero. Moreover, mountains often function as rain traps, where the air sheds large quantities of precipitation.
Coastal regions also have common characteristics throughout the world. They typically receive more precipitation than interior regions, where the distance to the ocean causes a dry climate. Moreover, oceans function as huge heat buffers, evening out seasonal temperature differences, ensuring mild winters and cool summers, whereas interior continental regions at the same degrees of latitude have wild winters and hot summers.