3.1 Factors affecting climate | UK Environmental Change Network (2024)

There are many different factors that affect climate around the world. It is the varying influence of these factors that lead to different parts of the Earth experiencing differing climates. The most important natural factors are:

  • distance from the sea
  • ocean currents
  • direction of prevailing winds
  • shape of the land (known as 'relief' or 'topography')
  • distance from the equator
  • the El Niño phenomenon.

It is now widely accepted that human activity is also affecting climate, and that the impact is not the same everywhere. For example, changes appear to be happening faster near the poles than in many other places. In this tutorial we will look at some of these factors in more detail.

The sea affects the climate of a place. Coastal areas are cooler and wetter than inland areas. Clouds form when warm air from inland areas meets cool air from the sea. The centre of continents are subject to a large range of temperatures. In the summer, temperatures can be very hot and dry as moisture from the sea evaporates before it reaches the centre of the land mass.

Ocean currents can increase or reduce temperatures. The diagram below shows the ocean currents of the world (view original source map). The main ocean current that affects the UK is the Gulf Stream.

The Gulf Stream

The Gulf Stream is a warm ocean current in the North Atlantic flowing from the Gulf of Mexico, northeast along the U.S coast, and from there to the British Isles.

The Gulf of Mexico has higher air temperatures than Britain as it is closer to the equator. This means that the air coming from the Gulf of Mexico to Britain is also warm. However, the air is also quite moist as it travels over the Atlantic ocean. This is one reason why Britain often receives wet weather.

The Gulf Stream keeps the west coast of Europe free from ice in the winter and, in the summer, warmer than other places of a similar latitude.

3.1 Factors affecting climate | UK Environmental Change Network (2)

The shape or relief of the land, such as mountains, can influence the climate of an area.

Winds that blow from the sea often bring rain to the coast and dry weather to inland areas. Winds that blow to Britain from warm inland areas such as Africa will be warm and dry. Winds that blow to Britain from inland areas such as central Europe will be cold and dry in winter.Britain's prevailing (i.e. most frequently experienced) winds come from a south westerly direction over the Atlantic. These winds are cool in the summer, mild in the winter and tend to bring wet weather.

Climate can be affected by mountains. Mountains receive more rainfall than low lying areas because as air is forced over the higher ground it cools, causing moist air to condense and fall out as rainfall.

The higher the place is above sea level the colder it will be. This happens because as altitude increases, air becomes thinner and is less able to absorb and retain heat. That is why you may see snow on the top of mountains all year round.

The distance from the equator affects the climate of a place. At the poles, energy from the sun reaches the Earth's surface at lower angles and passes through a thicker layer of atmosphere than at the equator. This means the climate is cooler further from the Equator. The poles also experience the greatest difference between summer and winter day lengths: in the summer there is a period when the sun does not set at the poles; conversely the poles also experience a period of total darkness during winter. In contrast, day length varies little at the equator.

El Niño, which affects wind and rainfall patterns, has been blamed for droughts and floods in countries around the Pacific Rim. El Niño refers to the irregular warming of surface water in the Pacific. The warmer water pumps energy and moisture into the atmosphere, altering global wind and rainfall patterns. The phenomenon has caused tornadoes in Florida, smog in Indonesia, and forest fires in Brazil.

El Niño is Spanish for 'the Boy Child' because it comes about the time of the celebration of the birth of the Christ Child. The cold counterpart to El Niño is known as La Niña, Spanish for 'the girl child', and it also brings with it weather extremes.

3.1 Factors affecting climate | UK Environmental Change Network (3)

Many human activities can affect the climate.

The factors above affect the climate naturally. However, humans also affect the climate. Early on in human history our effect on the climate would have been quite small. However, as populations increased and trees were cut down in large numbers, so our influence on the climate increased. Trees take in carbon dioxide and produce oxygen. A reduction in trees will therefore have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

The Industrial Revolution, starting at the end of the 19th Century, has had a huge effect on climate. The invention of the motor engine and the increased burning of fossil fuels have increased the amount of carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas - more on that later) in the atmosphere. The number of trees being cut down has also increased, reducing the amount of carbon dioxide that is taken up by forests.

Photo of cars by Joseph Chan on Unsplash.com

3.1 Factors affecting climate | UK Environmental Change Network (2024)


What are the factors affecting the climate of the UK? ›

The UK lies in the 'battleground' between warm tropical air to the south and cold polar air to the north. As two distinctly different types of air battle for control over the mid-latitudes, the UK experiences contrasting and changeable weather. The warm North Atlantic Drift significantly impacts the UK's climate.

What are 3 UK impacts of climate change? ›

Changes to the UK climate and weather events

In the future, we project that the UK will see: Warmer and wetter winters. Hotter and drier summers. More frequent and intense weather extremes.

What are the 3 main factors that affect climate? ›

The temperature characteristics of a region are influenced by natural factors such as latitude, elevation and the presence of ocean currents. The precipitation characteristics of a region are influenced by factors such as proximity to mountain ranges and prevailing winds.

What are the 3 biggest factors contributing to climate change? ›

Burning fossil fuels, cutting down forests and farming livestock are increasingly influencing the climate and the earth's temperature.

How does UK affect climate change? ›

The UK is actually one of the world's greatest contributors to global warming over time. Our long history of burning fossil fuels at scale began during the Industrial Revolution in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. This led to high carbon emissions both in the US and the UK.

Where in the UK is most affected by climate change? ›

Lincolnshire came first and Greater London second within the UK, with both places also making the top 10 percent of areas globally that are most at risk of property damage by extreme heat, forest fires, flooding and rising sea levels.

How vulnerable is the UK to climate change? ›

Last year's record breaking temperatures brought unprecedented heat-related deaths, wildfire incidents and significant infrastructure disruption. The impacts of climate change will intensify over coming decades, leaving the UK vulnerable without better resilience planning and preparation.

What are the social impacts of climate change in the UK? ›

How will climate change impact our society? Climate change impacts our society by disrupting the natural, economic and social systems we depend on. This disruption will affect food supplies, industry supply chains and financial markets, damage infrastructure and cities, and harm human health and global development.

How is the UK tackling climate change? ›

By increasing our support to clean growth and climate adaptation. By reducing our portfolio greenhouse gas emissions. By understanding and mitigating our climate-related financial risks. Through transparency and disclosure.

What are the 3 impacts of climate change? ›

The potential future effects of global climate change include more frequent wildfires, longer periods of drought in some regions, and an increase in the wind intensity and rainfall from tropical cyclones.

How does latitude affect UK climate? ›

The UK experiences a temperate maritime climate which brings mild winters, warm summers, and high total rainfall. UK climate is influenced by: Latitude - higher latitudes are colder. With the UK between 50 and 59 degrees north, it receives cooler temperatures than countries in lower latitudes.

What are the top 3 things causing climate change? ›

Fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas – are by far the largest contributor to global climate change, accounting for over 75 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 per cent of all carbon dioxide emissions.

What are the 3 main natural causes of climate change? ›

Geological records show that there have been a number of large variations in the Earth's climate. These have been caused by many natural factors, including changes in the sun, emissions from volcanoes, variations in Earth's orbit and levels of carbon dioxide (CO2).

What are three 3 results of global climate change? ›

Sea levels are rising and oceans are becoming warmer. Longer, more intense droughts threaten crops, wildlife and freshwater supplies. From polar bears in the Arctic to marine turtles off the coast of Africa, our planet's diversity of life is at risk from the changing climate.

What are the three major global climate factors? ›

(A) High eccentricity in Earth's orbit takes it further away from the sun. (B) The degree of Earth's tilt relative to its plane of orbit changes the degree of warming in the polar regions. (C) Precession of the equinoxes occurs as Earth wobbles on its axis.

What is the climate of the UK influenced by? ›

The UK experiences a temperate maritime climate which brings mild winters, warm summers, and high total rainfall. UK climate is influenced by: Latitude - higher latitudes are colder. With the UK between 50 and 59 degrees north, it receives cooler temperatures than countries in lower latitudes.

Why does the UK's climate vary? ›

The UK climate is heavily influenced by its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream/North Atlantic Drift which brings warm water into high northern latitudes. Prevailing winds are westerly, thus UK regional climates vary with distance from the Atlantic as well as topography.

What is the climate in the UK today? ›

Maximum daytime temperature: 17 degrees Celsius; Minimum nighttime temperature: 11 degrees Celsius. Sunny changing to light showers by late morning. Sunrise: 04:53 ; Sunset: 21:03 . UV: Moderate; Pollution: Low; Pollen: Moderate.

What controls UK weather? ›

The position of the jet stream over the UK determines the type of weather we experience. If the polar front jet is situated significantly to the south of the UK we will experience colder than average weather. If the polar front jet is situated to the north of the UK we will experience warmer than average weather.

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