A climatologist is a scientist who studies the climate. This field in the sciences is related to meteorology, the study of weather, except that it looks at long-term trends and the history of the climate, rather than examining weather systems in the short term like meteorologists do. These scientists can work in a variety of settings, including government agencies, nonprofit organizations interested in the climate, and even archeology departments at major colleges and universities. Someone who specializes in ancient climates, incidentally, is known as a paleoclimatologist.
There are a number of tools at the disposal of climatologists that allow them to study weather patterns and the climate. Like meteorologists, they use satellites to look at things like cloud cover, and also to compare historic cloud cover, snow pack, and glacier sizes with the modern day to look for climate trends. They also examine samples of ice cores taken from the poles to look for traces of compounds trapped in ancient snow to learn about what the climate was like in the past. Others do the same with samples of mud from long-established lakes.
Mud and ice cores can contain a wealth of information. For example, paleoclimatogists can look at the pollens found in ice cores to learn about which plants thrived when, looking for signs of plants that rely on specific climactic conditions for survival. Mud and ice cores can also contain traces of volcanic ash from eruptions, along with dissolved gases associated with changes in the Earth's atmosphere.
Climatologists also study oceans, using a variety of techniques to monitor ocean temperature, ocean currents, and changes in salinity. Volcanic eruptions are of interest as well, because they can alter the climate and provide information about how volcanoes have behaved in the past. Someone who works in this field can also use some more unexpected tools. For example, some climatology researchers have studied landscape paintings to look at the historical levels of cloud cover and light in addition to searching for signs of indicator plant species that could provide information about the climate at the time that the painting was created.
A climatologist can use the information he or she collects to create climate models using computer software. These models can used to demonstrate historic events involving the Earth's climate, and also to forecast future events on the basis of information about the past. Experts can also manipulate their models to show how various changes can impact the future of the climate, and they can demonstrate how small changes like seemingly minor rises in temperature can have a ripple effect on the planet.