Climate data monitoring

Monitoring and measuring

People start monitoring local climate at an early age. There are times of year to expect warmer temperatures or more rain and a coat will be more useful in Alaska than a bathing suit. Monitoring the climate can be as simple as these personal observations or as complex as a sensor array on a network of orbiting satellites.

Be sure to check the forecast for any excessive heat advisories in your area before venturing out.
New temperature data improves global climate monitoring
Historical perspectives on occurrences of record warm and record cold average monthly temperatures across the globe from 1951 to the present are now available.

Climate, atmosphere, and land

Scientists, volunteer observers, and automated instruments from around the world measure climate variables at Earth's surface and above. Some of the data collected include air chemistry, temperature, precipitation, cloud cover, and wind speed. Instruments carried on balloons and wind profiling radar provide observations from the surface to more than 10 miles high. Satellites constantly capture information about glacier melting rates, winds, temperature, and clouds.

Climate and the ocean

The ocean has a huge impact on climate, so NOAA monitors ocean conditions with satellites, ships, and buoys. Over 4,000 buoys and floatsoffsite link take daily measurements at the ocean surface as well as thousands of feet below. NOAA also monitors sea surface temperature, ocean chemistry, currents, sea level, sea ice, and heat content.

An expansive view of Alaska's Wrangell-St. Elias National Park & Preserve, America's biggest national park, as seen in April 2019. According to NOAA's National Center for Environmental Information, Alaska had its 10th warmest April on record in 2019.
Report highlights five years of dramatic climate change in Alaska
Alaska’s climate is changing, thanks to human-caused global warming, and the effects are widespread and sometimes dangerous.

Climate and the Sun

The amount of solar energy reaching Earth also affects climate. Changes in solar activity and in Earth's orbit influence the amount of solar radiation reaching Earth and how it is distributed among different latitudes and seasons. These cycles have caused major climatic changes through Earth's history. Satellite-based instruments monitor the sun's activity, helping to predict the sun's influence on Earth's climate.

Historic climate

Past climate, or paleoclimate, cannot be measured directly. However, solid clues about conditions in the past can be obtained from natural records such as tree rings, coral skeletons, glaciers, fossils, and sediments. These natural records help us learn what the climate was like long before scientific monitoring began.

The oceanographic research vessel NOAA Ship Ronald H. Brown is the largest ship in NOAA's fleet.
NOAA invests in new tools to measure the ocean
Drifters provide essential sea-surface temperature and ocean current data used by climate models...


The resources in this collection help students understand how and why scientists monitor Earth’s climate. Encouraging students to examine, question, and analyze this evidence can help them use higher order thinking skills, make scientific conclusions about climate change, and increase their climate literacy.

Updated February 2019