Friday, January 1, 2016

Meteorologists and Climatologists

Recent letters to the editor indicate a common misunderstanding of the difference between meteorologists and climatologists. Without going into the argument for or against human-caused climate change, I should like to clarify this difference.

Meteorology is the interdisciplinary scientific study of the atmosphere using traditional tools: the thermometer, barometer, anemometer, and hygrometer, along with modern tools such as radar, earth-observing satellites and computer modeling. Because of their effect on weather forecasting, the study of certain specific conditions, such as El NiƱo, the North Atlantic Oscillation, etc., is also important. The focus is on short term weather phenomena and forecasting, normally several days or weeks.

Climatology is the study of climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a period of time. Its tools are ice cores and tree rings, along with meteorological data accumulated over many years: rainfall, temperature, atmospheric composition, etc. The results are incorporated into computer models in an attempt to forecast changes in climate. A climatologist will attempt to forecast what the earth’s climate will be like 100 years from now, but his ability to predict next week’s weather is probably no better than a change in my arthritis pain.

The point is, if you want a forecast of the next week’s weather, ask a meteorologist – if you want a forecast of the next century’s climate, ask a climatologist.
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