climate: Climatology and Climatic Change

Climatology, the science of climate and its relation to plant and animal life, is important in many fields, including agriculture, aviation, medicine, botany, zoology, geology, and geography. Changes in climate affect, for example, the plant and animal life of a given area. The presence of coal beds in North America and Europe along with evidence of glaciation in these same areas indicates that they must have experienced alternately warmer and colder climates than they now possess.

Despite yearly fluctuations of climatic elements, there was, apparently, comparatively little overall change during the period of recorded history prior to the Industrial Revolution. Numerous climatic cycles (variations in weather elements that recur with considerable regularity) have been claimed to exist, including an 11-year cycle related to sunspot activity, but these are generally difficult to confirm. There is currently much concern about how human activities since the Industrial Revolution are changing the earth's climate, and how the global warming that has occurred as a result will alter the natural and human environment. Computer models of climate changes have been developed in recent years; some examine potential parameters that effect global warming or cooling.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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