Photograph of a sunset over a field.

What is Climate?


Dr. Ingrid H. H. Zabel and the authors of "Climate Change Past, Present, & Future: A Very Short Guide" (Warren D. Allmon, Trisha A. Smrecak, and Robert M. Ross). Most of the content of this chapter is derived from Chapter 3 of The Teacher-Friendly Guide to Climate Change, published by the Paleontological Research Institution (2017).

Chapter Images

High-resolution versions of all images in this chapter are available for free download.

Chapter Contents:

What is Climate?

  1. Climate is a System
  2. Measuring Climate
  3. Greenhouse Gases and Global Temperature
  4. Natural Causes of Climate Change
  5. Summary and Additional Resources

Image above: Sunset over a pasture in upstate New York. Photograph by Jonathan R. Hendricks for PRI's Earth@Home project (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license).

Before one can talk about climate change, one has to understand what climate is. How is it different from weather? What determines global and regional climates, and how does the carbon cycle—which connects the atmosphere, hydrosphere, geosphere, and biosphere—influence climate? How do we measure the characteristics of climate?

This chapter addresses these questions.