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Climate of the UK

One of the key themes of GCSE geography is weather and climate. You are expected to know the difference between the two terms and to understand the links between air pollution and climate change. You also should be able to give examples of how climate change can affect the lives of people. This quiz is concerned only with the UK climate, and changes in the weather and climate of the United Kingdom. Weather is created on a daily basis but climate is the weather averaged over a period of 30 years. When you start to look closely at climate variation in the UK, it can get quite complicated!

The world can be divided up into different climatic zones. These have different names depending on which system you use, the UK is in the northern temperate (or moderate) zone which is an area where it is most likely to have cold winters and mild summers. This doesn't mean that every winter will be cold or every summer mild, there can be relatively mild winters and some hot summers as well.

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Climate depends on many other factors too, so although the climate of the UK is classed as temperate or moderate, there are differences between different regions of Britain. In the mountains of Scotland the winter and summer temperatures are likely to be lower than the temperatures of the south of England. Apart from being further north, the altitude and relief makes a difference to the climate of an area. The climate can vary over very short distances too, take for example a single hill. The climate will vary from the top of the hill to the bottom of the hill e.g. the top is likely to be colder and windier. It will be different on the south side of the hill to the north side e.g. there will be more sunshine on the south side. The vegetation can affect the climate too, slowing down the wind and shading the sun. These small areas of different climate are called microclimates. The main climate and the microclimate determine what plants and animals live in a habitat. Gardeners sometimes deliberately create microclimates in their gardens so they can grow certain types of plant.

The climate of the UK is also referred to as being maritime - that means it is heavily influenced by the sea. On the west side, there is the Atlantic Ocean, on the east is the North Sea. There is a current of warmer water that crosses the Atlantic, it is known as the North Atlantic Drift and is powered by the Gulf Stream which originates in the ocean south of Florida in the USA. This makes the climate of the west side of the UK milder than it would otherwise be.

Since most of the weather of the UK comes from the south west, this also means that the climate of the UK will include high precipitation. The air above the North Atlantic Drift is slightly warmed and can pick up and hold more moisture in the form of water vapour than if it were colder. As the incoming moist air from the Atlantic meets the mountains and moorland of the west of the UK, it is forced upwards where it cools and condenses. The moisture then falls as rain and snow so the climate of the western side of the UK has more precipitation than the east.

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  1. Climate is ...
    There are many factors taken into account when describing the climate of an area, temperature and rainfall are two that are most commonly used
  2. During the winter, which of the following bring bad weather to the UK?
    Make sure that you revise the clouds and weather sequence as a depression (low pressure area) passes
  3. During the 20th century, the average temperatures in the UK have risen. Which of the following statements is NOT true?
    Climate studies show that winters are actually getting wetter and summers drier. Another impact is that rainfall patterns are sometimes out of season - a good example of this is the extreme rainfall experienced during the UK summer of 2007 and 2012
  4. Why do the Lake District and Wales have high rainfall?
    The air coming in from the Atlantic is warmed and can hold a lot of moisture in the form of water vapour. As the air is pushed upwards by the mountains, it cools and the moisture condenses. In winter, the moisture often falls as snow on the high ground but is still counted as rainfall
  5. For any given location in the UK, there will be fewer than 10 days on which it thunders. In cities like London and Birmingham, the average is 15 days. Why?
    As they heat up, so does the air in and around them and therefore contains more energy. On particularly hot days, the air becomes warmer than normal and contains sufficient energy to create thunderstorms. This is a good example of how humans can affect climate
  6. From which direction do the UK's prevailing winds blow?
    This brings moist air from the Atlantic Ocean
  7. What is thought to make the climate of the western coast of Scotland generally milder than the centre and the east of the country?
    The North Atlantic Drift is also known as the North Atlantic Current. Winds coming across the Atlantic to the UK are warmed and the west is often 2 - 3 degrees warmer than other areas, including Scotland
  8. Which of the following terms can be used to describe the climate of the UK?
    The word maritime means something to do with the sea
  9. Temperatures in the United Kingdom are affected by which of the following?
    Average temperatures decrease as you move north, there are some much smaller differences as you travel east or west and the higher you go, the colder it gets
  10. Which of the following parts of the UK has the wettest climate?
    Air masses arriving from the Atlantic carry a lot of moisture. The western side of the UK has a lot of mountains which push the air masses upwards so they cool down and drop the moisture as precipitation

Author: Kev Woodward

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