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resemble something like “the mean [weather] state together with measures of variability or fluctuations, such as the standard deviation or autocorrelation statistics for the period[1].” Additionally (and perhaps more saliently), climate study includes the identification of factors that drive the evolution of these long-term trends, and this is the aspect of climatology that has drawn the most attention recently. The claim that the activity of human beings is causing the average temperature to increase, is a claim of this third kind. It’s also worth emphasizing that since the study of climate is concerned with the factors that produce weather conditions, it is not necessarily limited to the study of atmospheric conditions. In particular, the relationship between the ocean and the atmosphere is a very significant sub-field of climate science[2], while those who study the weather directly are significantly less concerned with exploring the dynamics of the ocean.

Here’s a question that might immediately occur to us: what exactly counts as “long-term” in the relevant sense? That is, at what time-scale does our attempt to predict facts about temperature, precipitation, &c. cease to be a matter of weather prediction (that is, the kind of forecasting you might see on the nightly news), and become a matter of climate prediction? By now, our answer to this question should be fairly easy to predict: there is no concrete line other than that of actual scientific practice. As with all other special sciences, the difference between weather forecasting and climatology is defined only by the research questions that drive scientists working in their respective disciplines. There are clear cases that fall into one or another discipline—the question of how likely it is that it will rain tomorrow is clearly a question


  1. Schneider (2009), p. 6
  2. For an obvious example, consider the importance of the El Nino-Southern Oscillation—a coupled atmosphere/ocean phenomenon that occurs cyclically in the Pacific ocean region (and has received significant media attention).

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