What does a Climatologist do?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A climatologist is a scientist who studies the climate. This field in the sciences is related to meteorology, the study of weather, except that it looks at long-term trends and the history of the climate, rather than examining weather systems in the short term like meteorologists do. These scientists can work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations interested in the climate, and even archeology departments at major colleges and universities. Someone who specializes in ancient climates, incidentally, is known as a paleoclimatologist.

Ocean currents are monitored by a climatologist.
Ocean currents are monitored by a climatologist.

There are a number of tools at the disposal of climatologists that allow them to study weather patterns and the climate. Like meteorologists, they use satellites to look at things like cloud cover, and also to compare historic cloud cover, snow pack, and glacier sizes with the modern day to look for climate trends. They also examine samples of ice cores taken from the poles to look for traces of compounds trapped in ancient snow to learn about what the climate was like in the past. Others do the same with samples of mud from long-established lakes.

Climatologists examine ocean currents and temperatures.
Climatologists examine ocean currents and temperatures.

Mud and ice cores can contain a wealth of information. For example, paleoclimatogists can look at the pollens found in ice cores to learn about which plants thrived when, looking for signs of plants that rely on specific climactic conditions for survival. Mud and ice cores can also contain traces of volcanic ash from eruptions, along with dissolved gases associated with changes in the Earth's atmosphere.

Volcanic eruptions can provide valuable insight to climatologists.
Volcanic eruptions can provide valuable insight to climatologists.

Climatologists also study oceans, using a variety of techniques to monitor ocean temperature, ocean currents, and changes in salinity. Volcanic eruptions are of interest as well, because they can alter the climate and provide information about how volcanoes have behaved in the past. Someone who works in this field can also use some more unexpected tools. For example, some climatology researchers have studied landscape paintings to look at the historical levels of cloud cover and light in addition to searching for signs of indicator plant species that could provide information about the climate at the time that the painting was created.

A climatologist can use the information he or she collects to create climate models using computer software. These models can used to demonstrate historic events involving the Earth's climate, and also to forecast future events on the basis of information about the past. Experts can also manipulate their models to show how various changes can impact the future of the climate, and they can demonstrate how small changes like seemingly minor rises in temperature can have a ripple effect on the planet.

Tropical storm viewed from space.
Tropical storm viewed from space.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It sure looks to me like temperatures have not followed the CO2 curve since 1950. I think climatology is more like mumbo jumbo than science. When the facts don't jive up with the science, it's time to take a breather and think. Amazing too, how NASA's data disappeared. It's also amazing how the original report said get ready for global cooling while the summary said get ready for warming and the data in the report was manipulated to show warming.


This is excellent information, particularly to explain the difference between a meteorologist (what is happening now and this week) and a climatologist (what is the larger trend over decades or millennia).

It's also interesting that a lot of information about climate change is not coming from climatologists, but from other scientists who are observing changes in whatever field or area they work - for example, bug scientists (entomologists) observe that beetles which used to take two years to complete their life cycle now take only one, because the summer season is longer.


Just wanted to say thanks for this information. It has helped me consider on what career path I want to do!


This gave lots of info for homework! Thanks!


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Thanks a lot. This helped with my homework.


i couldn't find a lot of information but this is a good website. : )

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