The Indian Monsoon
The climate of India is strongly influenced by monsoon winds. The sailors who came to India in historic times were one of the first to have noticed the phenomenon of the monsoon. They benefited from the reversal of the wind system as they came by sailing ships at the mercy of winds. The Arabs, who had also come to India as traders named this seasonal reversal of the wind system ‘monsoon’. The monsoons are experienced in the tropical area roughly between 20° N and 20° S. To understand the mechanism of the monsoons, the following facts are important.
• The differential heating and cooling of land and water creates low pressure on the landmass of India while the seas around experience comparatively high pressure.
• The shift of the position of Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) in summer, over the Ganga plain (this is the equatorial trough normally positioned about 5°N of the equator – also known as the monsoon trough during the monsoon season).
• The presence of the high-pressure area, east of Madagascar, approximately at 20°S over the Indian Ocean. The intensity and position of this high-pressure area affects the Indian Monsoon.
• The Tibetan plateau gets intensely heated during summer, which results in strong vertical air currents and the formation of high pressure over the plateau at about 9 km above sea level.
• The movement of the westerly Jet Stream to the north of the Himalayas and the presence of the tropical easterly Jet Stream over the Indian peninsula during summer.
Apart from this, it has also been noticed that changes in the pressure conditions over the southern oceans also affect the monsoons. Normally, when the tropical eastern South Pacific Ocean experiences high pressure, the tropical eastern Indian Ocean experiences low pressure. But in certain years, there is a reversal in the pressure conditions and the eastern Pacific has lower pressure in comparison to the eastern Indian Ocean. This periodic change in pressure conditions is known as the Southern Oscillation or SO. The difference in pressure over Tahiti (Pacific Ocean, 18°S/149°W) and Darwin in northern Australia (Indian Ocean, 12°30’S/131°E) is computed to predict the intensity of the monsoons. If the pressure differences were negative, it would mean below average and late monsoons.
A feature connected with the SO is the El Nino, a warm ocean current that flows past the Peruvian Coast, in place of the cold Peruvian current, every 2 to 5 years. The changes in pressure conditions are connected to the El Nino. Hence, the phenomenon is referred to as ENSO (El Nino Southern Oscillations).