History of Climatology

climatology is THE branch of atmospheric science dedicated to the description and analysis of the Earth's climate and its biospheric interactions over extended periods of time. Climatology began as the observation and description of weather on subcontinental and continental levels. The Ancient Greeks believed that climates were nothing more than temperature gradients varying along latitude belts. Climatology was primarily observational speculation prior to the dawning of the scientific age, when devices for measuring and studying weather were invented, and the keeping of systematic weather records began.

early attempts to understand the climate

The scientific roots of climatology, a subdiscipline of meteorology until the late 20th century, were planted in the work of Edmund Halley's 1686 mapping of the trade winds and his assertion of a relationship between solar heating and atmospheric change. His work introduced the idea of weather and climate systems interacting with the physical features of the Earth. It was not until the early 20th century that the understanding of this interaction moved beyond observation to analysis and synthesis. Prior to the mid-20th century, climatology was divided into two subdisciplines: regional climatology, studying subcontinental and continental weather and climates; and physical climatology, gathering and analyzing the statistical data related to weather and climates. Climatology sought to describe and understand normal climates, but there was little understanding of the timescale or breadth of climate change, save for the ice age or of climate as a global system of interrelated climates forming a whole that is more than its parts.

Vilhelm Bjerknes's pre-1920s work on mid-altitude cyclones led him to create a model of atmospheric change based on hydrodynamics and thermodynamics. Bjerknes's work and Lewis Fry Richardson's 1920s equation-based weather predictions led to a rudimentary three-dimensional atmospheric model.

However, the complexity of the equations and magnitude of the calculations made the understanding of climate systems nearly impossible, until the availability of high-speed computers in the 1950s made numerical modeling of climate systems possible. This expansion led to the formation of the new subdisciplines of dynamic meteorology and dynamic climatology.

The second major impetus for change in climatology in the 20th century was World War II. World War II demonstrated the advantage to modern warfare of predictive meteorology when, for example, it was used to forecast the weather for June 6, 1944, the day of the invasion by the Allies of Nazi-occupied France. These conventional military applications, along with the need to understand weather patterns and climates as they related to the possibility of nuclear war and the expanding agricultural, industrial, communication, and transportation technologies, led to increased funding for training, research, and education in climatology.

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