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THE CLIMATE AND PHYSICAL ASPECTS OF THE EQUATORIAL
The three Climatal Zones of the Earth—Temperature of the Equatorial
Zone-Causes of the Uniform High Temperature near the Equator-
Equator-Concluding Remarks. It is difficult for an inhabitant of our temperate land to realise either the sudden and violent contrasts of the arctic seasons or the wonderful uniformity of the equatorial climate. The lengthening or the shortening days, the ever-changing tints of spring, summer, and autumn, succeeded by the leafless boughs of winter, are constantly recurring phenomena which represent to us the established course of nature. At the equator none of these changes occur ; there is a perpetual equinox and a perpetual summer, and were it not for variations in the quantity of rain, in the direction and strength of the winds, and in the amount of sunshine, accompanied by corresponding slight changes in the development of vegetable and animal life, the monotony of nature would be extreme.
In the present chapter it is proposed to describe the chief peculiarities which distinguish the equatorial from the temperate climate, and to explain the causes of the difference between them,-causes which are by no means of so simple a nature as are usually imagined.
The Three Climatal Zones of the Earth The three great divisions of the earth-the tropical, the temperate, and the frigid zones—may be briefly defined as the regions of uniform, of variable, and of extreme physical conditions respectively. They are primarily determined by the circumstance of the earth's axis not being perpendicular to the plane in which it moves round the sun; whence it follows that during one half of its revolution the north pole, and during the other half the south pole, is turned at a considerable angle towards the source of light and heat. This inclination of the axis on which the earth rotates is usually defined by the inclination of the equator to the plane of the orbit, termed the obliquity of the ecliptic. The amount of this obliquity is 23} degrees, and this measures the extent on each side of the equator of what are called the tropics, because within these limits the sun becomes vertical at noon twice a year, and at the extreme limit once a year, while beyond this distance it is never vertical. It will be evident, however, from the nature of the case, that the two lines which mark the limits of the geographical “tropics” will not define any abrupt change of climate or physical conditions, such as characterise the tropical and temperate zones in their full development. There will be a gradual transition from one to the other, and in order to study them separately and contrast their special features we must only take into account the portion of each in which these are most fully exhibited. For the temperate zone we may take all countries situated between 359 and 60° of latitude, which in Europe will include every place between Christiana and Algiers, the districts farther south forming a transitional belt in which temperate and tropical features are combined. In order to study the special features of tropical nature, on the other hand, it will be advisable to confine our attention mainly to that portion of the globe which extends for about twelve degrees on each side of the equator, in which all the chief tropical phenomena dependent on astronomical causes are most fully manifested, and which we may distinguish as the "equatorial zone." the debatable ground between these two well-contrasted belts local causes have a preponderating influence; and it would
not be difficult to point out localities within the temperate zone of our maps, which exhibit all the chief characteristics of tropical nature to a greater degree than other localities which are, as regards geographical position, tropical.
Temperature of the Equatorial Zone The most characteristic, as it is the most important feature in the physical conditions of the great equatorial zone, is the wonderful uniformity of its temperature, alike throughout the changes of day and night, and from one part of the year to another. As a general rule, the greatest heat of the day does not exceed 90° or 91° Fahr., while it seldom falls during the night below 74° Fahr. It has been found by hourly observations carried on for three years at the meteorological observatory established by the Dutch government at Batavia, that the extreme range of temperature in that period was only 27° Fahr., the maximum being 95o and the minimum 68o.
But this is, of course, very much beyond the usual daily range of the thermometer, which is, on the average, only a little more than 11° Fahr.; being 12:6° in September, when it is greatest, and only 8.1° in January, when it is least.
Batavia, being situated between six and seven degrees south of the equator, may be taken as affording a fair example of the climate of the equatorial zone; though, being in an island, it is somewhat less extreme than many continental localities. Observations made at Para, which is on the South American Continent, and close to the equator, agree, however, very closely with those at Batavia ; but at the latter place all the observations were made with extreme care and with the best instruments, and are therefore preferred as being thoroughly trustworthy. The accompanying diagram, showing by curves the monthly means of the highest and lowest daily temperatures at Batavia and London, is very instructive; more especially when we consider that the maximum of temperature is by no means remarkably different in the two
1 “Observations made at the Magnetical and Meteorological Observatory at Batavia. Published by order of the Government of Netherlands, India. Vol. I. Meteorological, from Jan. 1866 to Dec. 1868 ; and Magnetical, from July 1867 to June 1870. By Dr. P. A. Bergsma, Batavia, 1871.". This fine work is entirely in English.
places, 90° Fahr. being sometimes reached with us and not being often very much exceeded at Batavia.
Causes of the uniform High Temperature near the Equator
It is popularly supposed that the uniform high temperature of the tropics is sufficiently explained by the greater altitude, and therefore greater heating-power of the midday sun; but a little consideration will show that this alone by no means accounts for the phenomenon. The island of Java is situated in from six and a half to eight and a half degrees of south latitude, and in the month of June the sun's altitude at noon will not be more than from 58° to 60°. In the same month at London, which is fifty-one and a half degrees of north latitude, the sun's noonday altitude is 62o. But besides this difference of altitude in favour of London there important difference, for in Java the day is only about eleven and a half hours long in the month of June, while at London it is sixteen hours long, so that the total amount of sun-heat received by the earth must be then very much greater at London than at Batavia. Yet at the former place the mean temperature of the day and night is under 60° Fahr., while in the latter place it is 80° Fahr., the daily maximum being on the average in the one case about 68o and in the other about 89°
Neither does the temperature at the same place depend upon the height of the sun at noon; for at Batavia it is nearly vertical during October and February, but these are far from being the hottest months, which are May, June, and September, while December, January, and February are the coldest months, although then the sun attains nearly its greatest altitude. It is evident, therefore, that a difference of 30° in the altitude of the sun at noon, at different times of the year, has no apparent influence in raising the temperature of a place near the equator, and hence we 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