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Introduction to the Basic Drivers of Climate

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University of Toronto St. George
Doug Thomson

Introduction to the Basic Drivers of Climate September 11 , 2012 BIO120H1F What drives variation between climates? Climate: Long term prevailing weather in an area. Largely determined by temperature and precipitation. Serves as a determinant to the life in that area. Sun: Provides energy for living organisms and rives the planet’s weather and climatic patterns (near equator = greater solar input).  Areas in the tropics receive sunlight directly. Regions in the north and south receive sunlight at an angle. This in turn reduces heat and energy that reaches those areas.  Earth is tiled on its axis by 23.5 . As Earth orbits the sun, its orientation to the sun changes. Northern and southern tips of the Earth have opposite seasons and tropical areas experience little change (rainfall). Equinox: Both hemispheres receive equal solar input.  Sunlight intensity affects global winds, precipitation patterns, ocean circulations. These are all the components of climate.  At the equator, Earth warms air and water. Since molecules spread apart when they are warm, it is less dense than cold air. This causes heat to rise.  Sunlight causes water to evaporate from plants, soils and water.  Water molecules rise and condense to form clouds, then fall as precipitation.  Sunlight also creates winds. Warm air moves up and cold air fills its void. Tropicsl air moves away from the equator, towards the north and south poles. o  As it travels, it cools, becomes denser and descends around 30 north or south latitude.  This dry air absorbs moisture from the ground, creating a dry environment. Some of the air goes back to the equator, or to the poles. o  At 60 north and south, the air rises again, cools and releases precipitation (less than the tropical).  Cold air flows to the poles, absorbs moisture, which leads to cold climates of the polar regions.  Westward and eastward winds affect ocean currents. Warm tropical waters carry heat pole-ward along the east coast, cold water goes toward equator along the west coast (to fill the void).  Deeper currents are driven by a combination of Earth’s rotation and temperature differ
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