Geography of the Four Seasons

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  • 0:08 Differences in Seasons
  • 1:10 Axis & Rotation
  • 2:21 Solstice
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Whittemore

Jessica has taught junior high history and college seminar courses. She has a master's degree in education.

This lesson will explain how the earth's axis and rotation affect seasons. In doing this, it will also highlight the concept of the summer and winter solstices, as well as how seasons vary around the globe.

Differences in Seasons

Living in the Northeastern US, I love fall. The mountains turn into a rich display of colors and the weather is just perfect for comfy jeans and sweatshirts. However, I am not a fan of our winters. Yes, a white Christmas is wonderful, but after that, I'm not a fan of shoveling driveways and slippery roads. In fact, every year in about February I find myself thinking, 'Why on earth do I live here?' This is only made worse when my brothers, who live in Arizona and Southern Florida, call to tell me they are wearing shorts and having picnics. However, although this usually drives me nuts, today it works out to my advantage as it is an excellent little anecdote for today's lesson on how seasons are affected by our location on the globe.

For starters, we Northerners suffer through cold winters due to our location on the earth, while my brothers wear shorts in November due to theirs. Stating it plainly, regions closer to the equator experience relatively warm to hot temperatures throughout the year. However, areas to the south or north of the equator see varying temperatures as the seasons change.

Axis & Rotation

To explain, seasons exist due to the earth's tilt toward the sun. As many of us learned in our elementary days, the earth rotates around an invisible or imaginary line drawn through the North and South Poles, known as its axis. It's really important to note that this axis is on a tilt; it's not just straight up and down. It's also important to remember that it takes the earth 365 days to make its way all the way around the sun.

Due to this tilt, at varying times in a year, the rays of the sun shine on different parts of the world more directly. For instance, when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun, the people in the north experience warmer temperatures, or their summer. The opposite is also true: when the Southern Hemispheres is tilted toward the sun, the people of the south experience shorts and T-shirt weather, (except of course for those at the poles, they're always cold!).

If it weren't for this axis and rotation, we would be devoid of seasons. Instead, the areas around the equator would be warm as usual, the poles would be cold, while the rest of us would just be stuck in pretty monotonous movement of hot to cold.


With this idea of axis and rotation in mind, there are some geographical terms we should probably nail down. First, there is a solstice, a day in which the earth's axis is either closest or farthest from the sun. With this in mind, the summer solstice is the longest day of the year because the earth's axis is closest to the sun. Conversely, the winter solstice is the shortest day of the year because the earth's axis is farthest from the sun.

Now, here is where things might get a bit tricky. Remember that different areas experience seasons differently. For instance, my brothers go biking and have picnics during their winters, while I sit huddled next to a fireplace. This is due to our varying locations on the globe and our location relative to the equator. However, my brothers in Arizona and Florida still reside with me in the Northern Hemisphere, so while I'm tilted away from the sun, so are they. Therefore, we have winter at the same time. Yes, theirs is 60° while mine is 20°, but they're both still called 'winter'.

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