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Learn more about climate research in the Science Minute Movie: Climate Change & High Elevation National Parks

Climate is the set of long-term, average meteorological conditions that occur over several decades or longer. Unlike weather, which fluctuates greatly in the short term and is difficult to predict, climate is relatively stable, and many organisms have adapted to its predictable rhythms. As a result, climate is a driving force behind many ecological processes. For example, average temperature and moisture determine which species can live in an area, the rate at which they grow, and the frequency and severity of forest fires. Temperature and precipitation regimes also strongly influence the intensity and timing of stream flows, which are important factors in both agricultural and natural ecosystems. Climate change refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity.

Updated 1/12/12