||It has been suggested that Geocentric view of the seasons be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
||It has been suggested that Heliocentric view of the seasons be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since April 2013.|
|Part of the nature series|
A season is a subdivision of the year, marked by changes in weather, ecology, and hours of daylight. Seasons result from the yearly revolution of the Earth around the Sun and the tilt of the Earth's axis relative to the plane of revolution. In temperate and polar regions, the seasons are marked by changes in the intensity of sunlight that reaches the Earth's surface, variations of which may cause animals to go into hibernation or to migrate, and plants to be dormant.
During May, June and July, the northern hemisphere is exposed to more direct sunlight because the hemisphere faces the sun. The same is true of the southern hemisphere in November, December and January. It is the tilt of the Earth that causes the Sun to be higher in the sky during the summer months which increases the solar flux. However, due to seasonal lag, June, July and August are the hottest months in the northern hemisphere and December, January and February are the hottest months in the southern hemisphere.
In temperate and subpolar regions, generally four calendar-based seasons (with their adjectives) are recognized: spring (vernal), summer (estival), autumn (autumnal) and winter (hibernal). However, ecologists mostly use a six season model for temperate climate regions that includes pre-spring (prevernal) and late summer (serotinal) as distinct seasons along with the traditional four.
Causes and effects 
Axial tilt 
The seasons result from the Earth's axis being tilted to its orbital plane; it deviates by an angle of approximately 23.5 degrees. Thus, at any given time during summer or winter, one part of the planet is more directly exposed to the rays of the Sun (see Fig. 1). This exposure alternates as the Earth revolves in its orbit. Therefore, at any given time, regardless of season, the northern and southern hemispheres experience opposite seasons.
Elliptical Earth orbit 
Seasonal weather differences between hemispheres are further caused by the elliptical orbit of Earth. Earth reaches perihelion (the point in its orbit closest to the Sun) in January, and it reaches aphelion (farthest point from the Sun) in July. The effect this has on Earth's seasons is minor (there is only about a 7% increase/decrease in sunlight received). Any noticeably intensification of the southern hemisphere's winters and summers due to Earth's elliptical orbit is mitigated by the abundance of water in the southern hemisphere. 
Compared to axial tilt, other factors contribute little to seasonal temperature changes. The seasons are not the result of the variation in Earth’s distance to the sun because of its elliptical orbit. Orbital eccentricity can influence temperatures, but on Earth, this effect is small and is more than counteracted by other factors; research shows that the Earth as a whole is actually slightly warmer when farther from the sun. This is because the northern hemisphere has more land than the southern, and land warms more readily than sea. Mars however experiences wide temperature variations and violent dust storms every year at perihelion.
Maritime and hemispheric 
Seasonal weather fluctuations (changes) also depend on factors such as proximity to oceans or other large bodies of water, currents in those oceans, El Niño/ENSO and other oceanic cycles, and prevailing winds.
In the temperate and polar regions, seasons are marked by changes in the amount of sunlight, which in turn often causes cycles of dormancy in plants and hibernation in animals. These effects vary with latitude and with proximity to bodies of water. For example, the South Pole is in the middle of the continent of Antarctica and therefore a considerable distance from the moderating influence of the southern oceans. The North Pole is in the Arctic Ocean, and thus its temperature extremes are buffered by the water. The result is that the South Pole is consistently colder during the southern winter than the North Pole during the northern winter.
The cycle of seasons in the polar and temperate zones of one hemisphere is opposite to that in the other. When it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere, it is winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and vice versa.
In tropical and subtropical regions it is more common to speak of the rainy (or wet, or monsoon) season versus the dry season, because the amount of precipitation may vary more dramatically than the average temperature. For example, in Nicaragua the dry season (November to April) is called 'summer' and the rainy season (May to October) is called 'winter', even though it is located in the northern hemisphere. In other tropical areas a three-way division into hot, rainy, and cool season is used. There is no noticeable change in the amount of sunlight at different time of the year. However, many regions (such as the northern Indian ocean) are subject to monsoon rain and wind cycles.
Mid latitude thermal lag 
In meteorological terms, the summer solstice and winter solstice (or the maximum and minimum insolation, respectively) do not fall in the middles of summer and winter. The heights of these seasons occur up to seven weeks later because of seasonal lag. Seasons, though, are not always defined in meteorological terms.
In astronomical reckoning, the solstices and equinoxes ought to be the middle of the respective seasons, but, because of thermal lag, regions with a continental climate which predominate in the Northern hemisphere often consider these four dates to be the start of the seasons as in the diagram, with the cross-quarter days considered seasonal midpoints. The length of these seasons is not uniform because of the elliptical orbit of the earth and its different speeds along that orbit.
Meteorological seasons are reckoned by temperature, with summer being the hottest quarter of the year and winter the coldest quarter of the year. Using this reckoning, the Roman calendar began the year and the spring season on the first of March, with each season occupying three months. In 1780 the Societas Meteorologica Palatina, an early international organization for meteorology, defined seasons as groupings of three whole months. Ever since, professional meteorologists all over the world have used this definition. Therefore, for the Northern hemisphere, spring begins on 1 March, summer on 1 June, autumn on 1 September, and winter on 1 December. For the Southern hemisphere, spring begins on 1 September, summer on 1 December, autumn on 1 March, and winter on 1 June.
In Sweden and Finland, meteorologists use a definition for the seasons based on the temperature. Spring begins when the daily averaged temperature permanently rises above 0°C, summer begins when the temperature permanently rises above +10°C, summer ends when the temperature permanently falls below +10°C and winter begins when the temperature permanently falls below 0°C. "Permanently" here means that the daily averaged temperature has remained above or below the limit for seven consecutive days. This implies two things: first, the seasons do not begin at fixed dates but must be determined by observation and are known only after the fact; and second, a new season begins at different dates in different parts of the country.
|Surface air temperature|
The precise timing of the seasons as viewed by astronomers is determined by the exact times of transit of the sun over the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn for the solstices and the times of the sun's transit over the equator for the equinoxes.  For 2012 these times were:
|Mar 20, 05:14 UTC||June 20, 23:09 UTC|
|Sept 22, 14:49 UTC||Dec 21, 11:12 UTC|
The following diagram shows the relation between the line of solstice and the line of apsides of Earth's elliptical orbit. The orbital ellipse (with eccentricity exaggerated for effect) goes through each of the six Earth images, which are sequentially the perihelion (periapsis—nearest point to the sun) on anywhere from 2 January to 5 January, the point of March equinox on 20 or 21 March, the point of June solstice on 20 or 21 June, the aphelion (apoapsis—farthest point from the sun) on anywhere from 4 July to 7 July, the September equinox on 22 or 23 September, and the December solstice on 21 or 22 December.
From the March equinox it takes 92.75 days until the June solstice, then 93.65 days until the September equinox, 89.85 days until the December solstice and finally 88.99 days until the March equinox.
Solar timing 
Solar timing is based on insolation in which the solstices and equinoxes are seen as the midpoints of the seasons. It was the method for reckoning seasons in medieval Europe, especially by the Celts, and is still ceremonially observed in some east Asian countries. Summer is defined as the quarter of the year with the greatest insolation and winter as the quarter with the least. The solar seasons change at the cross-quarter days, which are about 3–4 weeks earlier than the meteorological seasons and 6–7 weeks earlier at the midpoints of the astronomical seasons. Thus, the day of greatest insolation is designated "midsummer" as noted in William Shakespeare's play A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is set on the summer solstice. Specifically, winter begins between 1 November (Samhain, Celtic origin of Halloween) and 10 November (立冬 Chinese lìdōng); spring between 1 February (Imbolc, Celtic origin of Groundhog Day) and 7 February (立春 lìchūn); summer between 1 May (Beltane, Celtic origin of May Day) and 10 May, (立夏 lìxià); and autumn between 1 August (Celtic Lughnasadh) and 10 August (立秋 (lìqiū). The Celtic dates corresponded to four Pagan agricultural festivals. Chinese seasons are a variation of the solar method traditionally based on 24 periods known as solar terms, and also begin at the midpoints of solstices and equinoxes.
"Official" designations 
By definition, the meteorological seasons start about three weeks ahead of their astronomical counterparts in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. The earlier-starting meteorological seasons are customarily observed in the largely maritime mid-latitude climates of the Southern hemisphere. This is because of the shorter temperature lag from the shortest to the coldest day of the year over and near water which leads to an earlier arrival of spring weather. Because of the longer temperature lags during the run-up to spring observed in the predominately continental climates north of the equator, the common (but not universal) convention in temperate climates of the Northern hemisphere is to observe the later-arriving astronomical seasons: March Equinox instead of March 1 (Spring), June Solstice instead of June 1 (Summer), September Equinox instead of September 1 (Autumn) and December Solstice instead of December 1 (Winter). These different observances in each hemisphere are informal and have not generally been legally proclaimed by governments north or south of the equator. Instead, any official status of the meteorological seasons in the southern hemisphere comes from the World Meteorological Organization which can only make official designations for the meteorological profession. Similarly, the astronomical seasons that are favored in many northern hemispheric countries because they are later starting derive their status from the International Astronomical Union which can only make official designations for the astronomical profession. In these contexts, official for the start of any calendar-based season (meterorological, astronomical, or solar) has to be taken as meaning customary or symbolic rather than legal.
Polar day and night 
Any point north of the Arctic Circle or south of the Antarctic Circle will have one period in the summer when the sun does not set, and one period in the winter when the sun does not rise. At progressively higher latitudes, the maximum periods of "midnight sun" and "polar night" are progressively longer.
For example, at the military and weather station Alert located at 82°30′05″N and 62°20′20″W, on the northern tip of Ellesmere Island, Canada (about 450 nautical miles or 830 km from the North Pole), the sun begins to peek above the horizon for minutes per day at the end of February and each day it climbs higher and stays up longer; by 21 March, the sun is up for over 12 hours. On 6 April the sun rises at 0522 UTC and remains above the horizon until it sets below the horizon again on 21 September at 0335 UTC. By October 13 the sun is above the horizon for only 1 hour 30 minutes and on October 14 it does not rise above the horizon at all and remains below the horizon until it rises again on 27 February.
However, end of February is not first light. The sky has twilight, being a glow on the horizon, for increasing hours each day, for more than a month before the sun first appears with its disc above the horizon. From mid November to mid January, there is no twilight.
In the weeks surrounding 21 June, in the northern hemisphere, the sun is at its highest elevation, appearing to circle the sky there without going below the horizon. Eventually, it does go below the horizon, for progressively longer periods each day until around the middle of October, when it disappears for the last time until the following February. For a few more weeks, "day" is marked by decreasing periods of twilight. Eventually, from mid November to mid January, there is no twilight and it is continuously dark. In mid January twilight returns the first faint wash of twilight briefly touches the horizon (for just minutes per day), and then twilight increases in duration with pre-dawn brightness each day until sunrise at end of February and on 6 April the sun remains above the horizon until mid October.
Ecologically speaking, a season is a period of the year in which only certain types of floral and animal events happen (e.g.: flowers bloom—spring; hedgehogs hibernate—winter). So, if we can observe a change in daily floral/animal events, the season is changing.
Floral and animal activity variation in the tropics depends more on wet/dry than temperature, with different species flowering (or emerging from cocoons) at specific times before, during, or after the monsoon season. Thus, the tropics are characterized by numerous "mini-seasons" rather than large blocks of time when the vast majority of plants and animals behave the same way.
Six seasons can be distinguished which are not tightly calendar-based like the meteorological and astronomical seasons. Mild temperate regions tend to experience the beginning of the hibernal season up to a month later than cool temperate areas, while the prevernal and vernal seasons begin up to a month earlier. For example, prevernal crocus blooms typically appear as early as February in mild coastal areas of British Columbia, the British Isles, and western and southern Europe. The actual dates for each season vary by climate region and can shift from one year to the next. Average dates listed here are for mild and cool temperate climate zones in the Northern Hemisphere:
- Prevernal (early or pre-spring): Begins February or late January (mild temperate), March (cool temperate). Deciduous tree buds begin to swell. Migrating birds fly from winter to summer habitats.
- Vernal (spring): Begins March (mild temperate), April (cool temperate). Tree buds burst into leaves. Birds establish territories and begin mating and nesting.
- Estival (high summer): Begins June in most temperate climates. Trees in full leaf. Birds hatch and raise offspring.
- Serotinal (late summer): Generally begins mid to late August. Deciduous leaves begin to change color. Young birds reach maturity and join other adult birds preparing for fall migration.
- Autumnal (fall): Generally begins mid to late September. Tree leaves in full color then turn brown and fall to the ground. Birds migrate back to wintering areas.
- Hibernal (winter): Begins December (mild temperate), November (cool temperate). Deciduous trees are bare and fallen leaves begin to decay. Migrating birds settled in winter habitats.
The indigenous people of Australia defined the seasons by what was happening to the plants, animals and weather around them. This led to each separate tribal group having different seasons, some with up to eight seasons each year. However most modern Aboriginal Australians and non-aboriginal Australians observe the international meteorological definition for the seasons of the Southern Hemisphere: 1 September (Spring), 1 December (Summer), 1 March (Autumn), and 1 June (Winter).
The six seasons are ascribed to two months each of the twelve months in the Hindu calendar. The rough correspondences are:
|Hindu season||Start||End||Hindu Months|
See also 
- Geocentric view of the seasons
- Heliocentric view of the seasons
- Indian summer
- Growing season
- Persephone, Greek mythological figure associated with the rebirth of vegetation in the spring
- Vertumnus, Roman god of the seasons
- Khavrus, V.; Shelevytsky, I. (2010). "Introduction to solar motion geometry on the basis of a simple model". Physics Education 45 (6): 641. Bibcode:2010PhyEd..45..641K. doi:10.1088/0031-9120/45/6/010.
- Khavrus, V.; Shelevytsky, I. (2012). "Geometry and the physics of seasons". Physics Education 47 (6): 680. doi:10.1088/0031-9120/47/6/680.
- Phillips, Tony. "Earth at Perihelion". Science News. NASA. Retrieved 14 May 2013.
- "Fundamentals of physical geography", PhysicalGeography.net, Ch. 6: Energy and Matter:(h) Earth-Sun Geometry, 
- Phillips, Tony, "The Distant Sun (Strange but True: the Sun is far away on the 4th of July)," Science@NASA, downloaded 24 June 2006
- Christian Ho, Nasser Golshan, and Arvydas Kliore, Radio Wave Propagation Handbook for Communication on and Around Mars, JPL Publication 02-5, pp. 59-60, downloaded 23 June 2006.
- David Thomson, Science, April 1995
- "Astronomy Answers AstronomyAnswerBook: Seasons," Astronomical Institute, Utrecht University, downloaded 1 August 2008
- Begin van de lente (Start of Spring) (Dutch), KNMI (Royal Dutch Meteorology Institute), 2009-03-20, retrieved 2009-03-20
- P. D. Jones et al.: SURFACE AIR TEMPERATURE AND ITS CHANGES OVER THE PAST 150 YEARS, Figure 7 (Seite 24 von 28 der PDF-Datei)
- quinoxes, Solstices, Perihelion, and Aphelion, 2000-2020
- Ross, Kelley L. "The Solar Terms and the Chinese 60 Year Calendar Cycle". friesian.com. Retrieved 2010-12-03.
- U.S. Naval Observatory
- Michael Allaby (1999). "A Dictionary of Zoology". Retrieved 2012-05-30.
- Australian weather and the seasons
- Maris, Mihaela, St. Luchian School, Bacau, Romania, Seasonal Variations of the Bird Species, ref. ecological seasons pp. 195–196 incl. and pp. 207–209 incl.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Seasons|
- When do the Seasons Begin? (from the Bad Astronomer)
- Southern Hemisphere calendar
- Solstice does not signal season's start (from The Straight Dope)
- Why the Earth has seasons article on h2g2.
- Aboriginal seasons of Kakadu
- Indigenous seasons (Australian Bureau of Meteorology)
- Mt Stirling Seasons
- The Lost Seasons
- Melbourne's six seasons
- The Lengths of the Seasons (numerical integration analysis)
- Earth distance vs tilt
- Tutorial on Earth/Sun Relations and Seasons