Koppen System of Climate Classification

Climate, the long term statistical average of weather conditions, helps describe the character of a region.

Technically, every place on Earth has its own climate. To deal with such tremendous variety, scientists set up categories.  They organize locations with similar characteristics into groups. The ancient Greeks were among the first to attempt climate classification.  They divided the world into three zones: torrid, temperate, and frigid.  Today, the most widely used scheme is the Koppen Climate Classification System.

Wladimir Koppen (1846-1940) was a German climatologist working at the turn of the 20th century.  He developed a climate system based on monthly and annual averages of temperature and precipitation. Koppen also believed that a region’s vegetation was its best expression of climate. So, the natural distribution of native plants heavily influenced his zonal boundaries.

The Koppen system recognizes five principle climate groups, each with various sub-categories.  They are:

  • Tropical: Tropical Rainforest, Tropical Monsoon, Tropical Savanna
  • Dry: Semi-arid, Arid
  • Temperate: Mediterranean, Humid Sub-tropical, Marine West Coast
  • Continental: Warm Summer, Cool Winter, Sub-arctic
  • Polar: Tundra, Ice Sheets

Over the years, people have expanded this system to better suit their needs.  While the number of sub-categories differ, most are based on Koppen’s original idea.