Climate Science Academy

Accurate climate science information from leading climate scientists

Module E: Climate Variability

Climate Literacy Essential Principle 4

Guiding Question

What causes the Earth's climate to vary regionally and globally?


Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.

Weather is the condition of the atmosphere and it occurs on short time scales--over minutes, hours, and days. Climate processes vary over longer time scales, ranging from seasonal variations to millennia. Climate can vary from local scales, such as the microclimate around a building or geographic feature, to broad regions, continents, and ultimately the planet itself.

Learning & Teaching About Essential Principle 4 with the Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN)

Introduction to Climate Literacy Essential Principle 4 presented by Mark McCaffrey

Scientist Presentation

Baylor Fox-Kemper, former CIRES Fellow, explains "Climate Variability: Maritime vs. Continental." Discussed is the role that the ocean plays in the climate system due to the high heat capacity of water, and other causes of regional climate variations.

Webinar with an Expert

David Noone, former CIRES Fellow, presents “Climate and climate variability: Wide world of wobbles, and why worry about wobble.” What is the difference between weather and climate? Why does the climate vary in places? Why does the climate vary over time?

Module E Quiz

Key concepts of Climate Literacy Essential Principle 4:

a. Climate is determined by the long-term pattern of temperature and precipitation averages and extremes at a location.

b. Climate is not the same thing as weather. Weather is the minute-by-minute variable condition of the atmosphere on a local scale.

c. Climate change is a significant and persistent change in an area's average climate conditions or their extremes.

d. Scientific observations indicate that global climate has changed in the past, is changing now, and will change in the future.

e. Based on evidence from tree rings, other natural records, and scientific observations made around the world, Earth's average temperature is now warmer than it has been for at least the past 1,300 years.

f. Natural processes driving Earth's long-term climate variability do not explain the rapid climate change observed in recent decades.

g. Natural processes that remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere operate slowly when compared to the processes that are now adding it to the atmosphere


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