What Factors Affect Climate?

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The factors that affect climate include elevation, latitude, wind, water currents and proximity to the ocean. Climate is not the same as weather. Climate is a long-term state, while weather changes constantly.

Elevation refers to the distance above or below sea level. The higher the elevation of a region, the colder it is. Even a location near the equator, such as Mt. Kilimanjaro in Africa, can have cold temperatures if its elevation is high enough.

Latitude refers to distance from the equator. The equator and tropical areas get more direct sunlight than areas to the north or south. The more direct sunlight received, the warmer the climate, which is why the poles are colder than the equator.

Warm air rising in the tropics causes cool air to be drawn from the surrounding areas, creating trade winds that blow in subtropical regions. Some of the air mass is drawn away from the equator toward the poles. These air masses create winds that help set weather patterns and determine a location's climate.

Earth’s rotation, surface winds and the Coriolis force create the surface currents of oceans. Under the influence of the trade winds, warm water near the equator flows from east to west. The Coriolis effect causes water to be deflected northward away from the equator and sets up a rotational cycle in the oceans, making currents flow clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and counter-clockwise in the Southern Hemisphere. As currents reach the poles, the water cools and sinks. The temperature of these currents affects the climate of surrounding areas.

Proximity to oceans is an important factor in an area's climate because oceans moderate climates by storing heat. Because it is a fluid, the ocean diffuses the effects of a temperature change for great distances through vertical mixing and convective movements.