Climate is determined by latitude or altitude and by a country's proximity to the ocean or an inland sea. In Europe, the annual temperature variation ranges from some 10 °C in coastal regions of Ireland and the United Kingdom to about 30 °C in Finland and the Russian Federation. Annual precipitation totals range from as low as 200 mm per year in Greece and southern Spain to over
Fig. 2. The greenhouse effect
2000 mm in coastal regions of Norway and at some locations in the Alps (8).
Although much of Europe lies in the northern latitudes, the relatively warm seas that border the continent give most of central and western Europe a temperate climate, with mild winters and summers. In the Mediterranean area, the summer months are usually hot and dry, with almost all rainfall occurring in winter. In eastern Europe (from central Poland eastwards), moderating drier conditions prevail, accompanied by a greater amplitude of annual variation in temperature: hot summers and cold winters. Northwestern Europe is characterized by relatively mild winters with abundant precipitation along the Norwegian coast and mountains, and much colder winters and generally drier conditions in Finland and Sweden.
The natural variability of climate is becoming better understood. There are natural oscillations within the climate systems, such as the North Atlantic Oscillation and the El Niño Southern Oscillation, which affect interannual variability. El Niño prominently influences weather patterns in much of the world but has only very weak effects in Europe. The North Atlantic Oscillation is characterized by changes in ocean circulation in the Atlantic and is a possible determinant of interdecadal and interannual variability in Europe (34).
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