Intertropical Convergence Zone

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The ITCZ is visible as a band of clouds encircling Earth near the Equator. IntertropicalConvergenceZone-EO.jpg
The ITCZ is visible as a band of clouds encircling Earth near the Equator.

The Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), known by sailors as the doldrums or the calms because of its monotonous, windless weather, is the area where the northeast and southeast trade winds converge. It encircles Earth near the thermal equator, though its specific position varies seasonally. When it lies near the geographic Equator, it is called the near-equatorial trough. Where the ITCZ is drawn into and merges with a monsoonal circulation, it is sometimes referred to as a monsoon trough , a usage more common in Australia and parts of Asia.

Thermal equator

The thermal equator is a belt encircling the Earth, defined by the set of locations having the highest mean annual temperature at each longitude around the globe. Because local temperatures are sensitive to the geography of a region, mountain ranges and ocean currents ensure that smooth temperature gradients are impossible, the location of the thermal equator is not identical to that of the geographic Equator.

Equator Intersection of a spheres surface with the plane perpendicular to the spheres axis of rotation and midway between the poles

An equator of a rotating spheroid is its zeroth circle of latitude (parallel). It is the imaginary line on the spheroid, equidistant from its poles, dividing it into northern and southern hemispheres. In other words, it is the intersection of the spheroid with the plane perpendicular to its axis of rotation and midway between its geographical poles.

Monsoon seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea

Monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by corresponding changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation associated with the asymmetric heating of land and sea. Usually, the term monsoon is used to refer to the rainy phase of a seasonally changing pattern, although technically there is also a dry phase. The term is sometimes incorrectly used for locally heavy but short-term rains, although these rains meet the dictionary definition of monsoon.



The ITCZ was originally identified from the 1920s to the 1940s as the Intertropical Front (ITF), but after the recognition in the 1940s and the 1950s of the significance of wind field convergence in tropical weather production, the term Intertropical Convergenze Zone (ITCZ) was then applied. [1]

Convergence zone

A convergence zone in meteorology is a region in the atmosphere where two prevailing flows meet and interact, usually resulting in distinctive weather conditions. This causes a mass accumulation that eventually leads to a vertical movement and to the formation of clouds and precipitation. Large-scale convergence, called synoptic-scale convergence, is associated with weather systems such as baroclinic troughs, low-pressure areas, and cyclones. Small-scale convergence will give phenomena from isolated cumulus clouds to large areas of thunderstorms.

Tropics region of the Earth surrounding the Equator

The tropics are the region of the Earth surrounding the Equator. They are delimited in latitude by The Tropic of Cancer in the Northern Hemisphere at 23°26′12.4″ (or 23.43678°) N and the Tropic of Capricorn in the Southern Hemisphere at 23°26′12.4″ (or 23.43678°) S; these latitudes correspond to the axial tilt of the Earth. The tropics are also referred to as the tropical zone and the torrid zone. The tropics include all the areas on the Earth where the Sun contacts a point directly overhead at least once during the solar year - thus the latitude of the tropics is roughly equal to the angle of the Earth's axial tilt.

The ITCZ appears as a band of clouds, usually thunderstorms, that encircle the globe near the Equator. In the Northern Hemisphere, the trade winds move in a southwestward direction from the northeast, while in the Southern Hemisphere, they move northwestward from the southeast. When the ITCZ is positioned north or south of the Equator, these directions change according to the Coriolis effect imparted by Earth's rotation. For instance, when the ITCZ is situated north of the Equator, the southeast trade wind changes to a southwest wind as it crosses the Equator. The ITCZ is formed by vertical motion largely appearing as convective activity of thunderstorms driven by solar heating, which effectively draw air in; these are the trade winds. [2] The ITCZ is effectively a tracer of the ascending branch of the Hadley cell and is wet. The dry descending branch is the horse latitudes.

Northern Hemisphere half of Earth that is north of the equator

The Northern Hemisphere is the half of Earth that is north of the Equator. For other planets in the Solar System, north is defined as being in the same celestial hemisphere relative to the invariable plane of the solar system as Earth's North Pole.

Trade winds

The trade winds are the prevailing pattern of surface winds from the east toward the west (easterly) found in the tropics, within the lower portion of the Earth's atmosphere, in the lower part of the troposphere near the Earth's equator. The trade winds blow predominantly from the northeast in the Northern Hemisphere and from the southeast in the Southern Hemisphere, strengthening during the winter and when the Arctic oscillation is in its warm phase. Trade winds have been used by captains of sailing ships to cross the world's oceans for centuries, and enabled colonial expansion into the Americas and trade routes to become established across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

Southern Hemisphere part of Earth that lies south of the equator

The Southern Hemisphere is the half of Earth that is south of the Equator. It contains all or parts of five continents, four oceans and most of the Pacific Islands in Oceania. Its surface is 80.9% water, compared with 60.7% water in the case of the Northern Hemisphere, and it contains 32.7% of Earth's land.

The location of the ITCZ gradually varies with the seasons, roughly corresponding with the location of the thermal equator. As the heat capacity of the oceans is greater than air over land, migration is more prominent over land. Over the oceans, where the convergence zone is better defined, the seasonal cycle is more subtle, as the convection is constrained by the distribution of ocean temperatures. [3] Sometimes, a double ITCZ forms, with one located north and another south of the Equator, one of which is usually stronger than the other. When this occurs, a narrow ridge of high pressure forms between the two convergence zones.

South Pacific convergence zone

Vertical air velocity at 500 hPa, July average. Ascent (negative values) is concentrated close to the solar equator; descent (positive values) is more diffuse Omega-500-july-era40-1979.png
Vertical air velocity at 500 hPa, July average. Ascent (negative values) is concentrated close to the solar equator; descent (positive values) is more diffuse

The South Pacific convergence zone (SPCZ) is a reverse-oriented, or west-northwest to east-southeast aligned, trough extending from the west Pacific warm pool southeastwards towards French Polynesia. It lies just south of the equator during the Southern Hemisphere warm season, but can be more extratropical in nature, especially east of the International Date Line. It is considered the largest and most important piece of the ITCZ, and has the least dependence upon heating from a nearby land mass during the summer than any other portion of the monsoon trough. [4] The southern ITCZ in the southeast Pacific and southern Atlantic, known as the SITCZ, occurs during the Southern Hemisphere fall between and 10° south of the equator east of the 140th meridian west longitude during cool or neutral El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) patterns. When ENSO reaches its warm phase, otherwise known as El Niño, the tongue of lowered sea surface temperatures due to upwelling off the South American continent disappears, which causes this convergence zone to vanish as well. [5]

The South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ), a reverse-oriented monsoon trough, is a band of low-level convergence, cloudiness and precipitation extending from the Western Pacific Warm Pool at the maritime continent south-eastwards towards French Polynesia and as far as the Cook Islands. The SPCZ is a portion of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) which lies in a band extending east-west near the Equator but can be more extratropical in nature, especially east of the International Date Line. It is considered the largest and most important piece of the ITCZ, and has the least dependence upon heating from a nearby landmass during the summer than any other portion of the monsoon trough. The SPCZ can affect the precipitation on Polynesian islands in the southwest Pacific Ocean, so it is important to understand how the SPCZ behaves with large-scale, global climate phenomenon, such as the ITCZ, El Niño–Southern Oscillation, and the Interdecadal Pacific oscillation (IPO), a portion of the Pacific decadal oscillation.

French Polynesia French overseas country in the Southern Pacific ocean

French Polynesia is an overseas collectivity of the French Republic and the only overseas country of France. It is composed of 118 geographically dispersed islands and atolls stretching over an expanse of more than 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) in the South Pacific Ocean. Its total land area is 4,167 square kilometres (1,609 sq mi).

International Date Line imaginary line that demarcates the change of one calendar day to the next

The International Date Line (IDL) is an imaginary line of demarcation on the surface of Earth that runs from the North Pole to the South Pole and demarcates the change of one calendar day to the next. It passes through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, roughly following the 180° line of longitude but deviating to pass around some territories and island groups.

Effects on weather

The ITCZ moves further away from the equator during the Northern summer than the Southern one due to the North-heavy arrangement of the continents. ITCZ january-july.png
The ITCZ moves further away from the equator during the Northern summer than the Southern one due to the North-heavy arrangement of the continents.

Variation in the location of the intertropical convergence zone drastically affects rainfall in many equatorial nations, resulting in the wet and dry seasons of the tropics rather than the cold and warm seasons of higher latitudes. Longer term changes in the intertropical convergence zone can result in severe droughts or flooding in nearby areas.

Drought extended period when a region notes a deficiency in its water supply

A drought or drouth is a natural disaster of below-average precipitation in a given region, resulting in prolonged shortages in the water supply, whether atmospheric, surface water or ground water. A drought can last for months or years, or may be declared after as few as 15 days. It can have a substantial impact on the ecosystem and agriculture of the affected region and harm to the local economy. Annual dry seasons in the tropics significantly increase the chances of a drought developing and subsequent bush fires. Periods of heat can significantly worsen drought conditions by hastening evaporation of water vapour.

In some cases, the ITCZ may become narrow, especially when it moves away from the equator; the ITCZ can then be interpreted as a front along the leading edge of the equatorial air. [6] There appears to be a 15 to 25-day cycle in thunderstorm activity along the ITCZ, which is roughly half the wavelength of the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO). [7]

Within the ITCZ the average winds are slight, unlike the zones north and south of the equator where the trade winds feed. As trans-equator sea voyages became more common, sailors in the eighteenth century named this belt of calm the doldrums because of the calm, stagnant, or inactive winds.

Role in tropical cyclone formation

Hurricanes Celia and Darby in the eastern Pacific and the precursor to Hurricane Alex in the Intertropical Convergence Zone. ITCZ jun 25 2010.jpg
Hurricanes Celia and Darby in the eastern Pacific and the precursor to Hurricane Alex in the Intertropical Convergence Zone.

Tropical cyclogenesis depends upon low-level vorticity as one of its six requirements, and the ITCZ fills this role as it is a zone of wind change and speed, otherwise known as horizontal wind shear. As the ITCZ migrates to tropical - subtropical latitudes and even beyond (Shandong province of the People's Republic of China) during the respective hemisphere's summer season, increasing Coriolis force makes the formation of tropical cyclones within this zone more possible. Surges of higher pressure from high latitudes can enhance tropical disturbances along its axis. [8] In the north Atlantic and the northeastern Pacific oceans, tropical waves move along the axis of the ITCZ causing an increase in thunderstorm activity, and under weak vertical wind shear, these clusters of thunderstorms can come.


Thunderstorms along the Intertropical Convergence Zone played a role in the loss of Air France Flight 447, which left Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport on Sunday, May 31, 2009, at about 7:00 p.m. local time (6:00 p.m. EDT or 10:00 p.m. UTC) and had been expected to land at Charles de Gaulle Airport near Paris on Monday, June 1, 2009, at 11:15 a.m. (5:15 a.m. EDT or 9:15 a.m. UTC) [9] The aircraft crashed with no survivors while flying through a series of large ITCZ thunderstorms, and ice forming rapidly on airspeed sensors was the precipitating cause for a cascade of human errors which ultimately doomed the flight. Most aircraft flying these routes are able to avoid the larger convective cells without incident.[ citation needed ]

In the Age of Sail, to find oneself becalmed in this region in a hot and muggy climate could mean death when wind was the only effective way to propel ships across the ocean. Calm periods within the "Doldrums" could strand ships for days or weeks.[ citation needed ] Even today, leisure and competitive sailors attempt to cross the zone as quickly as possible as the erratic weather and wind patterns may cause unexpected delays.

In literature and music

The doldrums are notably described in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798), in Patrick O'Brian's novel Desolation Island (1978), and in Laura Hillenbrand's non-fiction book Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010). Additionally, the Doldrums are a fictional place in Norton Juster's novel The Phantom Tollbooth (1961).

Noel Gallagher used the term to describe a woman stuck in the decade of the 1960s in the song "Holy Mountain": “get out of the doldrums, baby now!”

See also


  1. Barry, Roger Graham; Chorley, Richard J. (1992). Atmosphere, weather, and climate. London: Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-07760-6. OCLC   249331900.
  2. "Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone". JetStream - Online School for Weather. NOAA. 2007-10-24. Retrieved 2009-06-04.
  3. "Inter Tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) - SKYbrary Aviation Safety". Retrieved 2018-04-12.
  4. E. Linacre and B. Geerts. Movement of the South Pacific convergence zone Retrieved on 2006-11-26.
  5. Semyon A. Grodsky; James A. Carton (2003-02-15). "The Intertropical Convergence Zone in the South Atlantic and the Equatorial Cold Tongue" (PDF). University of Maryland, College Park. Retrieved 2009-06-05.
  6. Djurić, D: Weather Analysis. Prentice Hall, 1994. ISBN   0-13-501149-3.
  7. Patrick A. Harr. Tropical Cyclone Formation/Structure/Motion Studies. Office of Naval Research Retrieved on 2006-11-26. Archived November 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
  8. C.-P. Chang, J.E. Erickson, and K.M. Lau. Northeasterly Cold Surges and Near-Equatorial Disturbances over the Winter MONEX Area during December 1974. Part I: Synoptic Aspects. Retrieved on 2007-04-26.
  9. "Q & A Turbulences" 1.June.2009 The Guardian

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Anticyclone opposite to a cyclone

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Atmospheric circulation The large-scale movement of air, a process which distributes thermal energy about the Earths surface

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Tropical climate climate in the tropical region

A tropical climate in the Köppen climate classification is a non-arid climate in which all twelve months have mean temperatures of warmer than 18 °C (64 °F). In tropical climates there are often only two seasons: a wet season and a dry season. Tropical climates are frost-free, and changes in the solar angle are small. In tropical climates, the temperature remains relatively constant (hot) throughout the year. Sunlight is intense.

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Tropical wave type of atmospheric trough

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Equatorial Counter Current A shallow eastward flowing current found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans

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Hadley cell A global scale tropical atmospheric circulation feature

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Monsoon trough

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Upper tropospheric cyclonic vortex

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Monsoon of South Asia

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The Atlantic Equatorial Mode or Atlantic Niño is a quasiperiodic interannual climate pattern of the equatorial Atlantic Ocean. It is the dominant mode of year-to-year variability that results in alternating warming and cooling episodes of sea surface temperatures accompanied by changes in atmospheric circulation. The term Atlantic Niño comes from its close similarity with the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) that dominates the tropical Pacific basin. The Atlantic Niño is not the same as the Atlantic Meridional (Interhemispheric) Mode that consists of a north-south dipole and operates more on decadal timescales. The equatorial warming and cooling events associated with the Atlantic Niño are known to be strongly related to atmospheric climate anomalies, especially in African countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea. Therefore, understanding of the Atlantic Niño has important implications for climate prediction in those regions. Although the Atlantic Niño is an intrinsic mode to the equatorial Atlantic, there may be a tenuous causal relationship between ENSO and the Atlantic Niño in some circumstances.

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There are a number of explanations of the asymmetry of the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ), known by sailors as the Doldrums.

The Tropical Atlantic Variability (TAV) is influenced by internal interaction and external effects. TAV can be discussed in different time scales: seasonal and interannual.