System for describing climates, devised in 1931 and revised in 1948 by the American climatologist C. W. Thornthwaite, that divides climates into groups according to the vegetation characteristic of them, the vegetation being determined by precipitation effectiveness (P/E, where P is the total monthly precipitation, and E is the total monthly evaporation). The sum of the monthly P/E values gives the P/E index, which is used to define five humidity provinces, with associated vegetation. A P/E index of more than 127 (wet) indicates rain forest; 64–127 (humid) indicates forest; 32–63 (subhumid) indicates grassland; 16–31 (semi-arid) indicates steppe; less than 16 (arid) indicates desert. In 1948 the system was modified to incorporate a moisture index, which relates the water demand by plants to the available precipitation, by means of an index of potential evapotranspiration (PE), calculated from measurements of air temperature and day length. In arid regions the moisture index is negative because precipitation is less than the PE. The system also uses an index of thermal efficiency, with accumulated monthly temperatures ranging from 0, giving a frost climate, to more than 127, giving a tropical climate. See also köppen climate classification; and strahler climate classification.
Subjects: earth sciences and geography — ecology and conservation.