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Topic: David Battisti

Global ocean currents explain why the Northern Hemisphere is the soggier one

 

A quick glance at a world precipitation map shows that most tropical rain falls in the Northern Hemisphere. The Palmyra Atoll, at 6 degrees north, gets 175 inches of rain a year, while an equal distance on the opposite side of the equator gets only 45 inches. Scientists long believed that this was a quirk of the Earth’s geometry – that the ocean basins tilting diagonally while the planet spins pushed tropical rain bands north of the equator. But a new University of Washington study shows that the pattern arises from ocean currents originating from the poles, thousands of miles away.

The findings, published Oct. 20 in Nature Geoscience, explain a fundamental feature of the planet’s climate, and show that icy waters affect seasonal rains that are crucial for growing crops in such places as Africa’s Sahel region and southern India.

At the left is observations of average annual precipitation. The right is simulated precipitation with ocean conveyor-belt circulation turned off. (D. Frierson/UW)

At the left is observations of average annual precipitation. The right is simulated precipitation with ocean conveyor-belt circulation turned off. (D. Frierson/UW)

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