Under the Wikipedia article Temperate climate Temperate climate in the introduction is describes:

In geography, the temperate or tepid climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes, which span between the tropics and the polar regions of Earth.

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So by this sentence I take the temperate zone to be between the pink shaded area (the tropics, and the uppermost and lowermost broken lines (arctic and antarctic circles. This is simple enough.

Then in the next paragraph it says:

The temperate zones (latitudes from 35° to the polar circles at about 66.5°, north and south) are where the widest seasonal changes occur, with most climates found in it having somewhat balanced influence from both the tropics and the poles.

Now it says that the temperate zones are between latitudes about 35 degrees from the equator to the polar circles. This is different than the earlier description, which said it was between the tropics and the polar circles, which is about +- 23.5 degrees to the polar circles, not 35 degrees.

A little lower it says:

The north temperate zone extends from (approximately 23.5° north) to the Arctic Circle (approximately 66.5° north latitude). The south temperate zone extends from (approximately 23.5° south) to the Antarctic Circle (at approximately 66.5° south).
Zones and climates

So now it's saying again the temperate zone is between the tropics (23.5 degrees latitude) to the polar circles.

Lower again it specifies that there is a suptropical zone, namely:

Subtropical climates are generally located between 23.5° and 35° north or south on the eastern or leeward sides of landmasses. Humid subtropical climates

It's now specifying zones of the subtropics, but it doesn't change the fact that in the first instance it says the the temperate zone is between the tropics, +/- 23.5 degrees, and the polar circles, and then says the temperate zone is between 35 degrees to the polar circles, a definition which excludes the subtropics from the temperate zone.

Which one is correct? Is there a contradiction here? If so, is it a mistake or something more subtle I don't understand?

  • $\begingroup$ Earth's latitudes are from 0 degrees, at the equator to 90 degrees at the poles. The middle of this range is 45 degrees, so the mid latitudes would be from say 40 to say 50 degrees from the equator. Which agrees nicely with the zone marked temperature zone on the map in your question. $\endgroup$
    – Fred
    Oct 7, 2018 at 7:41

2 Answers 2


Note that they say:

the temperate or tepid climates of Earth occur in the middle latitudes

The word in can be used to convey that the first thing is only a part of the larger second thing... much as, for example, Texas is found IN the United States, or the preteen years are found in childhood.

But by including the additional further explanation of what the middle latitudes are directly after that, I agree it leans a reader towards your interpretation, and is ambiguous and likely confusing to others.

I'll try to make some minor adjustments to the article to hopefully alleviate any confusion.

But in all honesty, it's probably better to not get overly caught up in such excessively precise categorizing. I tend to believe that what one person, even one climatologist, might call temperate climates may well vary from what another one would classify them.
For example, they can be based on temperature ranges, on prevailing wind patterns, on breaking into equally-sized regions (like Fred commented), etc.

Really, I'd think of the subtropics as sort of a blurry boundary between the tropics and the temperate zone... where the closer you get towards the Equator, the less seasonal variability and frequency of cold air intrusions.

Indeed, even typical places well across into the "official Tropics" can see occasional years with some notable cold fronts, as happened in Cuba and even Costa Rica in the winter of 2010. So it's not like 23.5 is some magic physical boundary just because that's the northern extent of the sun's latitudinal cycle.

So the Wiki article as you read it appears to be saying the temperate climates are only 35° and 66.5°, only a subsection of the middle latitudes. But honestly, exactly what you classify the boundaries as is sort of like arguing over which states are in the Midwest or Southern Southern US -- very unnecessary outside of very specific circumstances, and prone to at least occasional dispute probably even among experts. Yes, a teacher or test may ask you to know their specific definition (whether of temperate boundaries or of which states are in the Midwest)... that's just part of life sometimes.

But the real take-home idea towards understanding how the Earth and specifically climate/weather work is just that there's a Polar region which has very cold polar air basically year-round, a Tropical region which has very warm Tropical air year-round (outside of colder mountains!), and then a "battle ground" that shifts seasonally and even daily in between, altering the weather significantly in those locations. And local factors like bodies of water and wind regimes can significantly shift regions into a large array of different expected weather


“Subtropical climates are generally located between 23.5° and 35° north or south on the eastern or leeward sides of landmasses. Humid subtropical climates”

Note this indicates that this is where subtropical climates are located on the eastern, or leeward side of landmasses. i.e. inland of western coastlines - think Louisiana, the Carolinas relative to the west coast for Humid Subtropical climates. The of deserts Africa (Sahara, Namib, Gobi) Central Asia and the Middle East, and Australia and Chile for dry subtropical climates. At the fringes of these areas and occasionally within the same latitude range is the Mediterranean climate.

These areas would be within the 23.5 to 35 degrees of latitude range. They certainly are distinct from temperate climates which would be better described by moderate annual temperatures, broadleaf forests, high to average rainfall. In North America this isn’t a straight line across the continent, with Vancouver being warm and wet, and New York having harsh winters. You could argue that the cooler poleward areas of the temperate zone defined as between 35 and 66.5 are subarctic - this would reach farther south farther inland (Siberia, Central Canada, Northern Central Continental US, Mongolia).

I do think the Wikipedia article contradicts itself and there needs to be a caveat in there that the presence of the medditeranean sea in the Northern Hemisphere changes the definition, and it does overlook the subtropical zone and should note that there are dry and humid subtropical zones who’s location is dependent on distance from the oceans, and the presence or absence of warming coastal currents (I.e Gulf Stream).

The trouble with Wikipedia is that there are often generalizations made. The climate can vary on small spatial scales so labeling a climate as “the same” for a large swath of the earth is a generalization. Generalizations are needed, and there are finer classifications out there. Including a swath of latitude that actually includes subtropical areas is a mistake, they are quite distinct and different climate zones. That needs to be edited to read “temperate zones are located between 35 and 66.5 degrees, poleward of the subtropical zones.” The article would need to link to the subtropical zones in that sentence as well to make it really clear too.

For your own information you may find the Köppen Climate Classification System interesting to look at, it visualizes my points, and can explain more than I can! https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Köppen_climate_classification

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I knew that climate was more complicated than just the latitude of a location. What I was wondering though was purely as a meaning of temperate zone? Is the temperate zone between the polar circles and the tropics EXCLUDING or INCLUDING the subtropics? Or is there no such clear definition? Collins Dictionary defines "temperate" as: "1. (Physical Geography) having a climate intermediate between tropical and polar; moderate or mild in temperature", but note, it refers to climate, not physical geography. Is there a certain zone latitude-wise that I can call the temperate zone or not? $\endgroup$
    – Zebrafish
    Oct 7, 2018 at 0:02
  • $\begingroup$ The temperate zone can be defined and described in a few different ways. You can define it as areas with a certain precipitation range, temperature range, or latitude. Generally you could define it as “continental areas with significant seasonal temperature variations but few temperature extremes.” Temperate is like the Goldilocks bowl of climate. $\endgroup$
    – Phil C
    Oct 8, 2018 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ Furthermore, the subtropics are quite different and certainly a separate climate zone. Typically these regions are characterized by significant daily temperature variations, and significant to extreme seasonal variations in rainfall. They are also area of semi-permanent high pressure. The temperate zone certainly sits between ~30 degrees and 66 degrees in the northern hemisphere, with 23.5-30 being the subtropics. $\endgroup$
    – Phil C
    Oct 8, 2018 at 6:52
  • $\begingroup$ I see, so you exclude the subtropics from the temperate zone. Then the Wikipedia article shouldn't have mentioned twice the 23.5 to 66 range as being the temperate zone? I was hoping there were settled latitudes between which the temperate zone would fall. The article first says 23.5 to 66, then 35 to 66, then 23.5 to 66 if I'm not mistaken. $\endgroup$
    – Zebrafish
    Oct 8, 2018 at 7:14
  • $\begingroup$ 35 to 66 is the most accurate of their statements. I’d suggest proposing an edit to the article and including a map that corroborates with the latitude swath and includes the subtropics as separate. $\endgroup$
    – Phil C
    Oct 8, 2018 at 12:58

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