agents, and recommends research priorities for attaining a more complete understanding of climate forcing.


Climate is conventionally defined as the long-term statistics of the weather (e.g., temperature, cloudiness, precipitation). This definition emphasizes the atmospheric and physical components of the climate system. These physical processes within the atmosphere are affected by ocean circulation, the reflectivity of the Earth’s surface, the chemical composition of the atmosphere, and vegetation patterns, among other factors. Improved understanding of how the atmosphere interacts with the oceans, the cryosphere (ice-covered regions of the world), and the terrestrial and marine biospheres has led scientists to expand the definition of climate to encompass the oceanic and terrestrial spheres as well as chemical components of the atmosphere (Figure 1-1). This expanded definition promotes an Earth system approach to studying how and why climate changes.

FIGURE 1-1 The climate system, consisting of the atmosphere, oceans, land, and cryosphere. Important state variables for each sphere of the climate system are listed in the boxes. For the purposes of this report, the Sun, volcanic emissions, and human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases and changes to the land surface are considered external to the climate system.

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