Using the Köppen classification to quantify climate variation and change: An example for 1901–2010


The Köppen climate classification was developed based on the empirical relationship between climate and vegetation. This type of climate classification scheme provides an efficient way to describe climatic conditions defined by multiple variables and their seasonalities with a single metric. Compared with a single variable approach, the Köppen classification can add a new dimension to the description of climate variation. Further, it is generally accepted that the climatic combinations identified with the Köppen classification are ecologically relevant. The classification has therefore been widely used to map geographic distribution of long term mean climate and associated ecosystem conditions. Over the recent years, there has also been an increasing interest in using the classification to identify changes in climate and potential changes in vegetation over time. These successful applications point to the potential of using the Köppen classification as a diagnostic tool to monitor changes in the climatic condition over various time scales. This work used a global temperature and precipitation observation dataset to reveal variations and changes of climate over the period 1901–2010, demonstrating the power of the Köppen classification in describing not only climate change, but also climate variability on various temporal scales. It is concluded that the most significant change over 1901–2010 is a distinct areal increase of the dry climate (B) accompanied by a significant areal decrease of the polar climate (E) since the 1980s. The areas of spatially stable climate regions for interannual and interdecadal variations are also identified, which have practical and theoretical implications.

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