Climate Zone: Definition & Types

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  • 0:03 Climate Zones &…
  • 2:00 Dry Climates
  • 2:56 Moderate Climates
  • 4:07 Continental Climates
  • 5:09 Polar Climates
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
Have you ever wondered what living in a tropical rainforest or even a desert would be like? In this lesson, we'll learn about the five different types of climates, including characteristics and where they are found on Earth.

Climate Zones & Tropical Climates

Imagine you're vacationing in the tropics. As you hike through the jungle to hidden waterfalls, you hear raindrops hitting the trees. This climate is substantially different from dry deserts, or the freezing temperatures at the poles. Climate is the long-term weather patterns of an area. Different climate zones exist all over the globe, depending on temperature, precipitation, and weather. Today, we're going to look at the five major climate zones.

That hot and humid jungle with the myriad of wildlife is part of the tropical climate zone. Although rainforests are one type of tropical climate, there are three subtypes in this category.

The wet tropical climate is the tropical rainforest. Over 60 inches of rain per year and warm temperatures make this a breeding ground for biodiversity. This climate exists as a band around the Equator, with rainforests in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.

Although we might associate tropical with wet, not all tropical biomes follow this weather pattern. The African Serengeti is a tropical wet dry climate. This climate has three distinct seasons: cool and dry, hot and dry, and hot and wet. Climate influences animal life tremendously. During the great migration in Africa, over a million wildebeests follow a migration loop through the Serengeti at the end of the rainy season each year in search of food.

No climate can be more dichotomous than the tropical monsoon climates, particularly the striking Okavango Delta in Western Africa. This area is a hot, dry desert for part of the year; wildlife struggle to find food and water. But once a year the area experiences heavy rains and turns into a flooded grassland. Rivers form, and life flourishes in a way that looks unrecognizable from the earlier desert-like conditions.

The Okavango Delta transforms from a barren desert to a flooded grassland once a year.
Okavango delta

Dry Climates

Although we usually think of a desert, or dry climate, as being hot, deserts can be cold, too. It all has to do with how much rainfall an area gets. Cold areas often have very dry climates since humidity is very low.

The driest areas are called arid climates and receive only 4-12 inches of rain per year, although some arid regions get even less. The Atacama Desert in Chile - the driest in the world - hasn't seen rain as long as scientists have been keeping records. There are large stretches without even a gnat or a piece of grass.

Now imagine walking around the Australian Outback. Although this semiarid climate might seem formidable, local tribes have wandered in this desert for thousands of years in search of spiritual enlightenment. Semiarid climates receive 10-20 inches of rain per year, so they are able to support more plant life in grassland ecosystems.

Moderate Climates

Moderate climates have clear hot and cold seasons. Although some subtypes are quite pleasant, such as the Mediterranean climate in California, others can be quite harsh, like the scorching summer heat in Georgia.

Mediterranean climates are quite popular. With warm, mostly dry summers and short, mild winters, what's not to like? These climates are found in the West coast of continents, such as California in the United States or Spain in Europe. These lovely climates are perfect for growing grapes and are often home to wineries.

A vineyard in the Mediterranean climate of California.

The Northern side of the West coast of the United States experiences the rainy weather that characterizes Seattle. Parts of Australia, South America, and Africa also enjoy this cool, wet climate. The marine West coast climate has more rain and lower average temperatures than the Mediterranean.

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