Climate and Natural Vegetation

GCSE Geography Resources

Are you looking for high-quality GCSE Geography resources? If so, you can save yourself a lot of time by downloading our modules below.

hazards

Compatible with the following exam boards

aqa
ocr
edexcel
cie

Climate

Climate pertains to the conditions of the atmosphere at a particular location over an extended time period. While the weather is the atmospheric elements and its variations over brief periods of time, climate is the long-term aggregation of all these. The elements of climate and natural vegetation include solar radiation, temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, humidity, and precipitation. 

In general, climate is regarded to be the predominant atmospheric conditions in a certain area. The aptest modern definitions of climate refer to it as being made up of the total experience of weather and atmospheric conditions across a number of years in a specific region. Climate is not only the “average weather” experienced in an area. Climate includes both the normal levels of climatic elements at different times and the full range of its variability and its extremes. Climate is time-dependent and the specific year must be noted when quoting climactic values or indexes. One year’s climate can be entirely different from another. In the same way, the climate of decades and centuries have been found to differ in smaller, yet at times still significant, amounts. 

World Climate Zones

A climate zone is based on the climate conditions of a certain region. This includes a region’s season, temperature, amount of precipitation, type of precipitation, and humidity. The same major factors that determine a region’s climate also determine its climate zone. The vegetation present in a region, as well as its condition and state, is reflective of the area’s climate zone. It is possible to determine the climate zone of a specific area by observing its vegetation, regardless of if the area is experiencing unusual weather at the time. As vegetation is determined by a region’s climate, the type of vegetation that grows in a region can also be used to define its climate zone. 

Generally, in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres, all areas across all continents located in similar latitudes and in similar positions belong to the same type of climate zone. A single exception to this rule is the climate zones referred to as the continental climates. These climate zones are absent in the Southern Hemisphere’s higher latitudes, as landmasses in the Southern Hemispheres are not large enough to create a continental climate. 

 The world’s climate zones are most commonly classified using the Koppen classification system. In this system, regions are sorted into climate zones according to temperature, amount of precipitation, and when precipitation happens over a year. The Koppen classification system classifies the world’s climate zones into five major climate groups. Each group is assigned a capital letter from A to E and further subdivided into subcategories. A few examples of the subgroups include forest (f), monsoon (m), and wet/dry types (w).

A biome is made up of a specific region’s climate type along with the plants and animals that inhabit it. Organisms that belong to one biome share some characteristics with other organisms living in the same or similar biomes in different parts of the world. This is because the conditions of the environments they live in pose the same evolutionary advantages and challenges, thus these organisms have adapted in similar ways throughout millennia. One example of this is the different species of cactus that can be found in the desert biomes of different continents. Although these cacti have grown and adapted in entirely different parts of the globe, they still share some adaptations that allow them to live in harsh desert environments. 

Climate zones may also be understood as areas of the earth with distinct climates. These zones wrap around the globe in the shape of a belt, or in the shape of a circle around the north and south poles. Climate zones are classified using different climatic parameters. They are not uniform and can also be broken up by mountains or oceans. 

Solar radiation does not strike the Earth’s surface in a uniform distribution, instead, it makes contact with different parts of the globe at different angles. Sunlight hits the earth almost perpendicularly in the equator, while areas closer to the poles receive sunlight from much lower angles. Due to the higher levels of sunlight that strikes the equator, these areas are much warmer than regions closer to the poles. 

The position of the Sun relative to the Earth changes throughout the seasons, thus also changing the angle at which sunlight reaches our planet’s surface. Differences in solar radiation translate to differences in temperature, which has significant climatic impacts on the climate and seasons that an area experiences. Furthermore, these climatic conditions are also impacted by factors such as the amount of precipitation and average air temperature. 

The distinct climatic conditions regularly present in a given area allows it to be described according to the following classification. 

Tropical

The tropical zone lies in between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, between 0-23.5 degrees in latitude. In the equatorial region, found between the equator and the tropics, solar radiation hits the ground almost directly vertical at noontime for nearly the entire year. The tropical zone is very warm, and its high temperatures lead to increased rates of evaporation, making the air humid and high in water vapour content. This results in dense and frequent cloud cover that dampens the overall effect of solar radiation on ground temperature. 

Subtropic

The subtropics are found between the latitudes 23.5 to 40. This climate zone receives the highest amount of solar radiation during the summer when the Sun’s rays are nearly vertical when they strike the Earth at noon. Subtropical regions have little cloud cover and receive less moisture, increasing the effect of radiation in the area. A majority of the world’s deserts are found in the subtropics. During the winter, subtropical regions experience a drastic decrease in solar radiation, making these regions temporarily cold and moist. 

Temperate

The Earth’s temperate zones are located in the latitudes 40-60, in between the Arctic Circle and the Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere, and the Antarctic Circle and the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere. Solar radiation reaches the temperate zones at much smaller angles, resulting in average temperatures cooler than the subtropics. Throughout the year, the length of one day changes along with the seasons. Temperate regions are characterised by climate with less frequent extremes, an even distribution of precipitation in a year, and longer vegetation periods. 

Frigid Zones/Poles

The Cold Zones are situated in the Earth’s polar regions, in between the latitudes 60 to 90. These areas receive little heat from solar radiation, as the sun’s rays hit them at a nearly flat angle with respect to the ground. In comparison to other climate zones, the length of a day varies the most in this region. Days are very long during the summer, a phenomenon called polar days, while long nights dominate the winter season. The conditions for life within cold zones are harsh and difficult. It is only possible for vegetation to grow during a couple of months in a year, and oftentimes this vegetation comes in sparse quantities. 

Vegetation

Vegetation is a term used to generally refer to the plant life present in a region. Vegetation pertains to ground cover provided by flora. It is also the biosphere’s most abundant biotic component biosphere. 

Vegetation plays many important roles in the biosphere. One of the vegetation’s most important functions is its regulation of the flow of many biogeochemical cycles. Among these are the water cycle, the carbon cycle, and the nitrogen cycle. Vegetation is also crucial to energy balances both at the local and global levels. The maintenance of these cycles is of great importance for both global vegetation patterns and climate. 

Vegetation also has significant effects on the characteristics of the soil. This includes soil volume, chemistry, and texture. In turn, these characteristics also have an effect on the characteristics of vegetation, such as productivity and structure. 

In addition to this, vegetation also acts as habitat for many different species. For animal species that feed on plants, vegetation also serves as their sources of energy. 

It can be argued that global vegetation’s most critical function is its production of a majority of the oxygen in the atmosphere. Without the large amounts of atmospheric oxygen produced by vegetation, aerobic metabolism systems would not have been able to evolve and persist. 

The human species, civilization, and development also benefit greatly from vegetation. People are dependent on vegetation for many things such as food, shelter, and medicine. Vegetation also makes important contributions to the world’s economy. Some examples of these include the use of fossil fuels as an energy source, as well as the production of food, wood, fuel and other materials around the world. 

How Climate Affects Vegetation

The most sensitive indicator of climate in an area is the vegetation that lives in it. Climate is directly related to plant growth, especially regarding temperature and the amount of rainfall an area receives. Regions with warmer climates, moderate to higher temperatures, and have large amounts of rainfall throughout the whole year are often abundant in trees and forests. Regions that experience a bit less rainfall are for the most part grasslands, called prairies in North America. Many grassland regions around the world have been converted for agricultural purposes. Some regions may have high levels of rainfall throughout the year, yet are scarce in vegetation since there is little rain during the warm seasons optimal for growing. Regions that experience little rainfall and are scarce in vegetation are called arid regions or deserts. Meanwhile, areas that have a little more rainfall than deserts are called semi-arid regions. The use of semi-arid regions for agricultural purposes poses significant risks to the area, as the loss of vegetation can lead to desertification. 

Vegetation Regions According to Climate

Forest

Forests are areas in which trees grow in close groups with their leaves, also known as foliage, providing shade for the ground. Forests exist wherever trees can be found, whether up in the mountains or under the sea. A wide variety of forests can be found on Earth. This includes boreal forests in cold regions near the Arctic Circle and tropical rainforests in the hot and humid areas situated on the Equator. 

Grassland

Grasslands are vast and level regions with grass as the prevailing kind of vegetation. All of the Earth’s continents, save for Antarctica, have grasslands. Grasslands vary according to the climate of the region they are found in. 

In grasslands found in cool and mild climates, such as those in northwest Europe, tough vegetation like oats grows throughout the whole year. A number of the grasses found in these climates are considered weeds due to their tough and hardy quality. 

In temperate regions, grasslands are dominated by seasonal vegetation. Throughout the year, the grasses that make up grassland in these climates change with the seasons. These grasslands can be found in the veld of South Africa and the prairies of North America. 

Grasslands found in the tropics are called savannas. This type of grassland thrives in weather that is dry and warm all year. Savannas are famously abundant in Africa. 

Desert

Desert regions are characterised by little to no rainfall throughout the year. Specifically, these regions only experience precipitation at an average of fewer than 10 inches per year. In general, deserts have low humidity levels, very high temperatures during the daytime, and low temperatures at nighttime.

Vegetation in deserts has adapted especially to these arid weather conditions. Many plants have evolved to have long roots, small leaves, water-storing stems, and prickly spines that deter animals from touching or consuming them. Cacti, endemic to North and South America, are prime examples of desert vegetation. 

Tundra

Tundras are areas that have cold temperatures and short seasons. Due to these factors, tree growth is limited in tundras. Instead, vegetation is most common in the form of limited amounts of mosses, shrubs, and grasses. Vegetation is sparse in these regions, as the ground temperature is too low for plants to take root. 

Ice Sheet

Ice sheets are large expanses of glacier ice that drape all over the land in the area. The land covered by glacier ice amounts to more than 50,000 square kilometres. Although ice sheets are regarded as vegetation regions, in reality, no vegetation grows on ice sheets. 

Resources

Climate. (n.d.). Retrieved from Britannica:
https://www.britannica.com/science/climate-meteorology

Climate zones. (n.d.). Retrieved from meteoScool:
https://content.meteoblue.com/en/meteoscool/general-climate-zones

Climate Zones and Biomes. (n.d.). Retrieved from Lumen:
https://courses.lumenlearning.com/geophysical/chapter/climate-zones-and-biomes/

How does climate affect vegetation. (n.d.). Retrieved from American Geosciences Institute:
https://www.americangeosciences.org/education/k5geosource/content/climate/how-does-climate-affect-vegetation

Vegetation. (n.d.). Retrieved from Science Daily:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/vegetation.htm

Vegetation region. (n.d.). Retrieved from National Geographic:
https://www.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/vegetation-region/

Cite/Link to This Article

  • "Climate and Natural Vegetation". Geography Revision. Accessed on October 22, 2021. https://geography-revision.co.uk/gcse/weather-climate/climate-and-natural-vegetation/.

  • "Climate and Natural Vegetation". Geography Revision, https://geography-revision.co.uk/gcse/weather-climate/climate-and-natural-vegetation/. Accessed 22 October, 2021.

  • Climate and Natural Vegetation. Geography Revision. Retrieved from https://geography-revision.co.uk/gcse/weather-climate/climate-and-natural-vegetation/.