Here in Northeastern Ohio, we have four seasons: summer in June, July and August, winter in January, February and March. But this isn’t the case all over the world. Some places in the world have a very long winter and a short summer, like in northern Canada. Other places have a very long summer and a short winter, as in Sub-Saharan Africa. Obviously, Canada feels a lot different than Africa. We can see that temperature has a big effect on climate.
Take another scenario: even though the temperatures and locations are very similar, Miami and Los Angeles are very different. Miami gets almost 5 feet of rain every year, while Los Angeles only receives slightly more than a foot of rain annually. Cleveland, by comparison, is in between Los Angeles and Miami at about 3 feet of precipitation per year. Los Angeles is in a climate that can be considered a desert but Miami is not. Precipitation (rain, snow, sleet, hail, etc.) also has a big effect on climate.
So what is climate? Climate is the group of conditions of the atmosphere near the earth’s surface at a certain place on Earth. We can say that the climate of East Cleveland is that we have warm, humid summers and cold, snowy winters. Of course, there is a lot more that we could say about the climate of East Cleveland, but that’s enough to start talking about biomes.
A biome is the combination of a particular climate and the living things on Earth that live in that climate. An easy way to describe a biome is to say what the temperatures, precipitation, plants and animals are in that particular biome. In our biome (temperate deciduous forest), we have a lot of deciduous trees, which are the ones that lose their leaves in fall. We also have plenty of grasses, small mammals, insects and a high population of humans.
A biome depends greatly on climate. Certain animals and plants cannot survive in certain climates: just like there can’t be evergreen trees in the desert, palm trees don’t survive well in Antarctica! Likewise, certain animals are adapted to certain biomes, but not other ones. It’s hard to imagine an elephant in a snowy field or a polar bear on a tropical island. Of course, if global warming continues, this type of situation may happen.
Speaking of global warming, it’s important to understand how certain parts of the world get more heat than others. The sun remains about the same distance away from the Earth all year, every year. What causes the change in seasons is the amount of direct sun that a certain area gets. Because the Earth is slightly tilted on its axis, the sunlight that we get in the summer is much more direct than the sunlight that we get in the winter. Summer is like shining a flashlight directly into someone’s eyes, and winter is like shining the flashlight from underneath your chin as if you were telling a scary ghost story. From the diagram, you can see that indirect sunlight gets spread out over the surface of Earth more than direct sunlight.
Precipitation, or when water falls from the atmosphere in any form, is caused by a combination of factors. The sunlight that hits the Earth and the rotation of the Earth both play a role in the winds that control Earth’s climate zones. From the diagram, you can see that winds take moisture away from certain parts of Earth and deliver precipitation to other parts. Depending on the temperature of that air, the precipitation will be rain, snow, or something in between. And if global warming causes the temperature of the oceans to continue to rise, then more and more water will evaporate, causing more and more precipitation!