Factors Affecting Climate Latitude

Birds and tropical vacationers alike know that climate is affected by latitude. Because the earth is a sphere, the surface of the earth does not receive uniform amounts of solar radiation. This difference in how much sunlight strikes the surface of the earth drives major climactic patterns from the equator to the poles, and is responsible for the formation of tropical, temperate and polar ecosystems.

  1. Features

    • Geographic coordinates like latitude and longitude are used to pinpoint a location on the earth's spherical surface. The coordinates for latitude and longitude represent the distance from the earth's center, and are measured in units called degrees. Degrees of longitude represent lines perpendicular to the equator.


    • The equator is a line around the center of the earth set at zero degrees latitude, and it is equal distance from both the North and South poles. All lines of latitude are parallel to the equator, and there are 90 latitude lines between the equator and each pole. One degree of latitude represents approximately 69 miles over the surface of the earth.


    • Key latitude lines important to know when discussing climate are the equator, at zero degrees of latitude, the Tropic of Cancer, which is about 23 degrees north of the equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, which is at about 23 degrees south of the equator. The North Pole is at 90 degrees north of the equator and the South Pole is at 90 degrees south of the equator.

      Climate by definition is an area's long-term weather patterns, and includes factors like average temperature and precipitation.


    • Radiant energy from the sun is the single biggest factor affecting climate at all latitudes of the earth. Because of the curvature of the surface of the earth, not all areas receive the same amount of solar radiation. This difference drives differing climates at different latitudes. The sun strikes the equator most directly, and strikes higher latitudes at diffuse angles, which spreads out the same amount of solar radiation across larger surface areas of the earth away from the equator.


    • Because equatorial areas receive the greatest amount of solar radiation and also experience the least variation in the solar energy they receive, tropical ecosystems are located between the equator and the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Tropical latitudes are characterized by high temperatures, and ecosystems that can be either very wet or very dry. Temperature zones sit between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and the Arctic and Antarctic circles. These zones show seasonal variation in climate and moderate temperatures. High latitudes are cold because they receive the least solar radiation. Tundra and taiga ecosystems are found across high latitudes.

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  • Photo Credit Image by Flickr.com, courtesy of acbo

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