Page images

therefore conclude that other agencies are at work which often completely neutralise the effect which increased altitude must undoubtedly exert.

There is another important difference between the temperate and tropical zones, in the direct heating effect of the sun's rays independently of altitude. In England the noonday sun in the month of June rarely inconveniences us or produces any burning of the skin ; while in the tropics, at almost any hour of the day, and when the sun has an elevation of only 40° or 50°, exposure to to it for a few minutes will scorch a European so that the skin turns red, becomes painful, and often blisters or peels off. Almost every visitor to the tropics suffers from incautious exposure of the neck, the leg, or some other part of the body to the sun's rays, which there possess a power as new, as it is at first sight inexplicable, for it is not accompanied by any extraordinary increase in the temperature of the air.

These very different effects, produced by the same amount of sun-heat poured upon the earth in different latitudes is due to a combination of causes. The most important of these are, probably,—the constant high temperature of the soil and of the surface-waters of the ocean,—the great amount of aqueous vapour in the atmosphere,--the great extent of the intertropical regions which cause the winds that reach the equatorial zone to be always warm,--and the latent heat given out during the formation of rain and dew. We will briefly consider the manner in which each of these causes contributes to the degree and the uniformity of the equatorial temperature,

Influence of the Heat of the Soil.-- It is well known that at a very moderate depth the soil maintains a uniform temperature during the twenty-four hours ; while at a greater depth even the annual inequalities disappear, and a uniform temperature, which is almost exactly the mean temperature of the locality, is constantly maintained throughout the year. The depth at which this uniform temperature is reached is greater as the annual range of temperature is greater, so that it is least near the equator, and greatest in localities near the arctic circle where the greatest difference between summer and winter temperature prevails. In the vicinity of the equator, where the annual range of the thermometer is so small as we have seen that it is at Batavia, the mean temperature of about 80° Fahr. is reached at a depth of four or five feet. The surplus heat received during the day is therefore conducted downwards very slowly, the surface soil becomes greatly superheated, and a large portion of this heat is given out at night and thus keeps up the high temperature of the air when the sun has ceased to warm the earth. In the temperate zones, on the other hand, the stratum of uniform earth-temperature lies very deep. At Geneva it is not less than from thirty to forty feet, and with us it is probably fifty or sixty feet, and the temperature found there is nearly forty degrees lower than at the equator. This great body of cool earth absorbs a large portion of the surface heat during the summer, and conducts it downwards with comparative rapidity, and it is only late in the year (in July and August) when the upper layers of the soil have accumulated a surplus store of solar heat that a sufficient quantity is radiated at

night to keep up a high temperature in the absence of the sun. At the equator, on the other hand, this radiation is always going on, and earth-heat is one of the most important of the agencies which tend to equalise the equatorial climate.

Influence of the Aqueous Vapour of the Atmosphere. — The aqueous vapour which is always present in considerable quantities in the atmosphere, exhibits a singular and very important relation to solar and terrestrial heat. The rays of the sun pass through it unobstructed to the earth ; but the warmth given off by the heated earth is very largely absorbed by it, thus raising the temperature of the air ; and as it is the lower strata of air which contain most vapour these act as a blanket to the earth, preventing it from losing heat at night by radiation into space. During a large part of the year the air in the equatorial zone is nearly saturated with vapour, so that, notwithstanding the heat, salt and sugar become liquid, and all articles of iron get thickly coated with rust. Complete saturation being represented by 100, the daily average of greatest humidity at Batavia reaches 96 in January and 92 in December. In January, which is the dampest month, the range of humidity is small (77 to 96), and at this time the range of temperature is also least; while in September, with a greater daily range of humidity (62 to 92) the range of temperature is the greatest, and the lowest temperatures are recorded in this and the preceding month. It is a curious fact, that in many parts of England the degree of humidity as measured by the comparative saturation of the air, is as great as that of Batavia or even greater. A register kept at Clifton

during the years 1853–1862 shows a mean humidity in January of 90, while the highest monthly mean for the four years at Batavia was 88; and while the lowest of the monthly means at Clifton was 79.1, the lowest at Batavia was 78.9. These figures however represent an immense difference in the quantity of vapour in every cubic foot of air. In January at Clifton, with a temperature of 35° to 40° Fahr., there would be only about 4 to 41 grains of vapour per cubic foot of air, while at Batavia, with a temperature from 80° to 90° Fahr., there would be about 20 grains in the same quantity of air. The most important fact however is, that the capacity of air for holding vapour in suspension increases more rapidly than temperature increases, so that a fall of ten degrees at 50° Fahr. will lead to the condensation of about 11 grains of vapour, while a similar fall at 90° Fahr. will set free 67 grains. We can thus understand how it is that the very moderate fall of the thermometer during a tropical night causes heavier dews and a greater amount of sensible moisture than are ever experienced during much greater variations of temperature in the temperate zone.

It is this large quantity of vapour in the equatorial atmosphere that keeps up a genial warmth throughout the night by preventing the radiation into space of the heat absorbed by the surface soil during the day. That this is really the case is strikingly proved by what occurs in the plains of Northern India, where the daily maximum of heat is far beyond anything experienced near the equator, yet, owing to the extreme dryness of the atmosphere, the clear nights are very cold, radiation being sometimes so rapid that water placed in shallow pans becomes frozen over.

As the heated earth, and everything upon its surface, does not cool so fast when surrounded by moist as by dry air, it follows, that even if the quantity and intensity of the solar rays falling upon two given portions of the earth's surface are exactly equal, yet the sensible and effective heat produced in the two localities may


very different according as the atmosphere contains much or little vapour. In the one case the heat is absorbed more rapidly than it can escape by radiation; in the other case it radiates away into space, and is lost, more rapidly than it is being absorbed. In both cases an equilibrium will be arrived at, but in the one case the resulting mean temperature will be much higher than in the other.

Influence of Winds on the Temperature of the Equator. - The distance from the northern to the southern tropics being considerably more than three thousand miles, and the area of the intertropical zone more than one-third the whole area of the globe, it becomes hardly possible for any currents of air to reach the equatorial belt without being previously warmed by contact with the earth or ocean, or by mixture with the heated surface-air which is found in all intertropical and sub-tropical lands. This warming of the air is rendered more certain and more effective by the circumstance, that all currents of air coming from the north or south have their direction changed owing to the increasing rapidity of the earth's rotational velocity, so that they reach the equator as easterly winds, and thus pass obliquely over a great extent of the heated surface of the globe. The causes that produce the westerly monsoons act in a similar manner, so that on the equator direct north or

« EelmineJätka »