The passing of a year is marked by the change in the weather and the surrounding environment. This cycle is marked by the four seasons — winter, spring, summer, autumn. Each one can vary significantly in characteristics based on the geographical location, but everywhere they prompt changes in the world around them.

If you want to classify seasons, the attributes may vary by location, but there are still broad definitions that cross most of the boundaries. is when seeds take root and vegetation begins to grow. The weather is warmer and often wetter. This temperature change is what triggers animals to wake from hibernation or return from warmer climates, often with newborns. Melting snow from the previous season, along with increased rainfall that is synonymous with spring, can cause flooding. All of this would be important to include in a taxonomy or classification about spring.

The next branch of that tree would be summer. With temperatures increasing to their highest of the four seasons, there is potential for heat waves or droughts. This also creates the perfect environment for forest fires.

Autumn brings with it cooler temperatures and harvest. Plants begin to grow dormant after producing all their fruit for the season. Animals began to prepare themselves for the upcoming cold weather, storing food or traveling to warmer regions.

Winter is almost synonymous with cold. Some areas may experience snow or ice, while others see only cold rain. Animals, like humans, find ways to warm themselves, and may have changed their appearance.

The changing seasons are such a part of our lives that it is easy to forget what actually causes the transitions. The timing and characteristics of the seasons depends upon the location on Earth. Regions near the equator experience fairly constant temperatures throughout the year, with balmy winters barely discernible from warm summers. This is because it gets fairly constant light from the sun, due to its position on the outer curve of the Earth.,_Macap%C3%A1_city,_Brazil.jpg

The Marco Zero monument marking the Equator in Macapá, Brazil.

For areas to the north and south, the seasons can change more significantly. People closer to the poles might experience icier, more frigid winters, while those closer to the equator might suffer hotter summers.

It is important to point out that the time of year a region experiences a particular season depends on whether it is in the northern or southern hemisphere. Spring is not always March and April as those of us in North America tend to assume.

The southern hemisphere experiences winter while its northern neighbor endures summer; the north sees the blossom of spring while the south brings in the autumn harvest.

The astronomical definition of the seasons relates to specific points in Earth’s trip around the sun. The summer and winter solstice, the longest and shortest day of the year, occur when Earth’s axis is either closest or farthest from the sun.

The summer solstice in the northern hemisphere occurs around June 21, the same day as the winter solstice in the southern hemisphere. The south’s summer solstice occurs around December 21, same as the winter solstice for the north.

Equinoxes are another significant day during the Earth’s journey around the sun. On these days, the planet’s axis is pointed parallel to the sun. Day and night during the equinoxes are supposed to be close to equal. The spring, or vernal, equinox for the northern hemisphere takes place around March 20, the same day as the south’s autumnal equinox. The vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere occurs around September 20, when people in the north celebrate the autumnal equinox.

I have lived in regions where the four seasons were not fully experienced. When living in Phoenix, Arizona, we called it “winter-light” because the complete attributes of snow, ice and cold were rarely present. However, on the flip side, summer was saturated with extreme dryness and heat.

The seasons can bring a wide variety to the year for those locations that experience them in full. The weather in each one may allow people to engage in activities that they cannot perform in others — skiing in the winter, swimming in the summer. Of course, here in the South, spring and summer brings with it the angst and suffering of allergies.

Each season brings with it its own potential dangers, but also its own unique style of beauty.

Melody K. Smith

Sponsored by Access Innovations, the world leader in taxonomies, metadata, and semantic enrichment to make your content findable.