Climatology

Climatology (from the Greek κλίμα klima, meaning “region, area”, and λογία logìa) is the branch of earth and atmospheric sciences that deals with the study of climate, or, scientifically speaking, “average weather conditions over a period of at least 20 to 30 years”. Through appropriate physical-mathematical models, called climate models, climate dynamics can be studied and climate predictions for the future can be made by highlighting possible climate changes.

The first steps in the study of climate can be traced back to Edmund Halley, who published a map of the trade winds in 1686 after a voyage to the southern hemisphere. Benjamin Franklin first mapped the path of the Gulf Stream in the 18th century. Francis Galton invented the concept of an anticyclone. Helmut Landsberg began to use statistical analysis in climatology, giving it the status of a real science.

Areas of climatological interest are then atmospheric stratification, mass and heat circulation (by radiation, convection or latent heat), interactions between the atmosphere and the oceans and continents (in this case especially vegetation, anthropogenic land use and topography), and the chemical and physical composition of the atmosphere. Climatology is thus an extremely multidisciplinary science, closely linked to many other branches of the Earth sciences and beyond: in fact, it brings together disciplines such as astrophysics, chemistry, ecology, geology, geophysics, glaciology, hydrology, oceanography, and volcanology.

Branches

Within climatology, there are different approaches to the study of climate, with different goals, which give rise to different branches:

  • Statistical climatology, or climatological statistics, is the discipline that makes extensive use of statistics to analyze climate data over the medium to long term (time series) to determine whether or not climate change has occurred in a given period and location, highlighting trends and oscillations (detection). From these analyses, it is possible to search for the causes of said changes (attribution) by analyzing climate forcings and feedbacks in general with the use of climate models.
  • Climatological modeling is another fundamental branch of climatology, which attempts to summarize in complex mathematical models all the knowledge, processes, and mechanisms of interaction of the systems that define the climate system (see next section); these models are used to learn more about past climatic conditions, to understand those of the present, and finally to predict future ones. However, any study of climate is complicated by the scale at which one works, the length of time periods considered, and the inherent complexity of the processes that govern the atmosphere; it is now generally accepted that it is governed by differential equations based on the laws of physics, particularly fluid dynamics and radiative transfer. Climate is sometimes represented as a stochastic process, although this is thought to be an approximation of processes that are otherwise complicated to analyze. By inputting or removing certain climate forcings into the model and running the model, once validated, on past data, attribution studies can be performed – that is, attributing causes (natural or anthropogenic) to past climate changes based on comparisons between the results obtained from the model and those historically observed.
  • Paleoclimatology attempts to describe past climates by studying glacial sediments (so-called ice cores) or tree rings (in the latter case, dendroclimatology).
  • Paleotempestology uses the same techniques to determine the frequency of cyclones and storms over centuries. The study of more recent climates, on the other hand, uses meteorological data accumulated over the years, such as rainfall, temperature, and atmospheric composition.
  • Finally, historical climatology deals with climate in relation to human historical events and therefore focuses on the last millennia of our planet’s history.
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