˘Atmospheric circulation is the large-scale movement of air, and the means (together with the smaller ocean circulation) by which thermal energy is distributed on the surface of the Earth.

˘The large-scale structure of the atmospheric circulation varies from year to year, but the basic climatological structure remains fairly constant. However, individual weather systems - mid-latitude depressions, or tropical convective cells - occur "randomly and it is accepted that weather cannot be predicted beyond a fairly short limit: perhaps a month in theory, or (currently) about ten days in practice (see Chaos theory and Butterfly effect). Nonetheless, as the climate is the average of these systems and patterns - where and when they tend to occur again and again -, it is stable over longer periods of time.
˘As a rule, the "cells" of Earth's atmosphere shift polewards in warmer climates (e.g. interglacials compared to glacial), but remain largely constant even due to continental drift. Tectonic uplift can significantly alter major elements of it, however - for example the jet stream -, and plate tectonics shift ocean currents. In the extremely hot climates of the Mesozoic, indications of a third desert belt at the Equator has been found; it was perhaps caused by convection. But even then, the overall latitudinal pattern of Earth's climate was not much different from the one today.

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