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Climate Connection: Monsoons

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A monsoon is a seasonal shift in wind direction in a region. Monsoons are typically associated with summer seasons of heavy rain in regions near the equator, such as in South Asia and West Africa, but can also occur in Western Europe and the American Southwest.


In general, monsoons occur when the center of continental landmasses heat up during summertime more quickly than nearby waters. Air masses over this hot land begin to warm and rise higher and higher, resulting in a zone of low air pressure. Offshore high-pressure systems push moist air inland towards the low-pressure system (SF Fig. 3.2 A). If this moist air mass lifts over mountains and becomes cooled, the moisture condenses and falls as precipitation—typically heavy rain during summer monsoons in the tropics (SF Fig. 3.2 B).


Monsoons occur in some of the world’s most densely populated countries like India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Singapore, and the Philippines. Monsoons can have both negative and positive effects. Flooding caused by monsoon rains can destroy property and crops (SF Fig. 3.2 C). However, seasonal monsoon rains can also provide freshwater for drinking and crop irrigation.

<p><strong>SF Fig. 3.2.</strong> (<strong>A</strong>) A July surface weather map showing a large low-pressure system over central Asia in blue and several adjacent high-pressure systems in red</p><br />
<p><strong>SF Fig. 3.2.</strong>&nbsp;(<strong>B</strong>) Dark monsoon clouds approaching from the sea in Kerala, southern India</p><br />
<p><strong>SF Fig. 3.2.</strong> (<strong>C</strong>) A rain-swollen river during heavy monsoon rain in Sri Lanka</p><br />


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Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.