Climate Change?

Our Climate

When we talk about climate, it is important to know just what climate is. Although weather and climate appear closely related, they are in fact two very different concepts. Weather describes the meteorological conditions at a given time and place. Climate, on the other hand, describes the meteorological conditions, including temperature, rain and wind, that characteristically prevail in a particular region over a period of time, typically 30 years.

Bycollectingweather information all around the country every hour, and by analysing these records over the 30 year period,it is possible to assess how the climate is behaving. Currently, Ireland's climate tends to be warm in the summer, around 16 degrees Celsius, and cool in the winter, around 5 degrees Celsius.

Natural climate variability is also picked up by these measurements. For instance, March 2012 was one of the warmest for 50 years, while March 2013 was the coldest on record. This does not mean necessarily that the climate is changing, but an increase in extremes such as these is a good indicator that it might be.

By monitoring the climate, we can forecast the likely weather. This is important for many reasons. For example, farmers need to know what kind of crops to sow that suit a certain climate; planners and engineers need to have climate data so that they can design roads, buildings and bridges to resist the anticipated conditions. This is particularly important, as structures that are not designed and built to a high enough standard may be susceptible to damage.

For more information on climate and weather forecasting, see Met Eireann.

What is Climate Change?

Climate change is a significant change in the climate that a region experiences. Climate change can be caused by natural factors such as variations in solar intensity or volcanic eruptions. However, the term climate change is now generally associated with changes in our climate due to the build up of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere as a result of human activities.

GHG build up is caused by excess emissions from activities such as burning fossil fuels for energy, transport, heating and cement manufacture, and methane emissions from agriculture. GHGs let sunlight pass through the atmosphere to reach the earth, but then trap the outgoing energy from the heated surface of the earth like a blanket. This causes a warming of the global atmosphere generally, although it is very hard to anticipate exactly how this will affect climates at more regional scales.

Next - Our changing climatenext