He’s also wrong to ignore “weather” when thinking about climate.
Weather is an actual physical phenomenon. Weather is what’s happening. Climate is mathematics – more specifically – statistics. Climate doesn’t just “happen.” Climate is the result of weather. Climate is what weather “does” over time and/or space. When we talk about climate we are talking about the weather over a long period of time or we are talking about the weather over a widely defined area of the earth. Thus, climate is a collection of the averages – and other statistical constructs – of the impact of the weather that is happening. That’s why it is an ideal topic for computer modeling.
Climatologists don’t just talk about the weather that you and I experience. They have also learned that the weather that fish in the oceans experience is also critical to our climate. We have hurricanes, thunderstorms, and things like cold and warm fronts. Fish in the oceans have El Niño, La Niña, thermoclines, and things like the Gulf Stream. Atmospheric weather is fast acting. Individual weather events play out in hours or days – typically within a week or so. Ocean weather events are long lasting – typically playing out over several weeks or even thousands of years. Atmospheric and ocean weather phenomena impact each other. Collectively, they are the building blocks of the statistical construct we call climate.
When I think about climate, I don’t just think about weather. I think about the weather this year compared to the weather last year – or the weather every year for the past 68 years (I can’t think about the weather much further back than that.) – that I experienced here in Minnesota. When climatologists think about the climate, they think about the weather over periods of tens of thousands of years all over the earth.
Studying the earth’s climate involves the creation of very large databases of weather statistics of atmospheric and ocean weather phenomena. Trying to understand how the climate changes therefore involves a lot of statistical manipulation. That’s why it is an ideal topic for computer modeling.
When I fire up my barbeque to make steaks, I do two things. I heat up the surrounding air and I introduce CO2 into the atmosphere. The heat radiates from the barbeque in the form of infra-red radiation. The upper level CO2 in the atmosphere reflects a percentage of the infra-red radiation back to the surface. Both actions change – in very subtle ways – the weather. Yes, my barbeque can change the climate. Collectively, my barbeque, my car, my fireplace, my furnace, my air conditioner, the energy expended to generate my electricity, my very breathing, and the cows that lived to provide my steak caused subtle changes in the weather today. Remember, the weather is part of a chaotic system that has extreme sensitivity to initial conditions (The Butterfly effect).
And climate is a statistical construct of weather over time and space.
Published in the Winona Daily News on December 15, 2015 under the title: The building blocks of climate start with weather