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A monsoon is traditionally defined as a seasonal reversing wind accompanied by seasonal changes in precipitation, but is now used to describe seasonal changes in atmospheric circulation and precipitation. The major monsoon systems of the world consist of the (West) African and Asia-Australian monsoons. The inclusion of the North and South American monsoons with incomplete wind reversal may be debated.

The term was first used in English in Indiamarker, Bangladeshmarker, Pakistanmarker, and neighboring countries to refer to the big seasonal winds blowing from the Indian Oceanmarker and Arabian Seamarker in the southwest bringing heavy rainfall to the area. In hydrology, monsoon rainfall is considered to be that which occurs in any region that receives the majority of its rain during a particular season. This allows other regions of the world to qualify as monsoon regions.

Etymology and definition

The English monsoon came from Portuguese monção, ultimately from Arabic mawsim (موسم "season"), "perhaps partly via early modern Dutch monsun". The Arabic-origin word mausam (मौसम, موسم) is also the word for "weather" in Hindi, Urdu, and several other North Indian languages. The definition includes major wind systems that change direction seasonally.

"Most summer monsoons have a dominant westerly component and a strong tendency to ascend and produce copious amounts of rain (because of the condensation of water vapor in the rising air). The intensity and duration, however, are not uniform from year to year. Winter monsoons, by contrast, have a dominant easterly component and a strong tendency to diverge, subside, and cause drought."


Strengthening of the Asian monsoon has been linked to the uplift of the Tibetan Plateaumarker after the collision of India and Asia around 50 million years ago. Many geologists believe the monsoon first became strong around 8 million years ago based on records from the Arabian Seamarker and the record of wind-blown dust in the Loess Plateaumarker of China. More recently, plant fossils in China and new long-duration sediment records from the South China Seamarker led to a timing of the monsoon starting 15-20 million years ago and linked to early Tibetan uplift. Testing of this hypothesis awaits deep ocean sampling by the Integrated Ocean Drilling Program. The monsoon has varied significantly in strength since this time, largely linked to global climate change, especially the cycle of the Pleistocene ice ages. Timing of the monsoon strengthening of the Indian Monsoon of around 5 million years ago was suggested due to an interval of closing of the Indonesian Seaway to cold thermocline waters passage from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean which is believed to have resulted in an increased sea surface temperature in the Indian Ocean, which increased gyral circulation and then caused an increased intensity of the monsoon. Sinha et al. (2006) identified five episodes during the Quaternary at 2.22 (PL-1), 1.83 (PL-2), 0.68 (PL-3), 0.45 (PL-4) and 0.04 Ma (PL-5), of weakening of Leeuwin Current (Western Australiamarker) and postulated that the weakening of the LC would have an effect on the sea surface temperature (SST) in the Indian Ocean, as the Indonesian throughflow generally warms the Indian Ocean. Thus these five intervals could probably be those of considerable lowering of SST in the Indian Ocean and would definitely have influenced Indian monsoon intensity. They ( Sinha et al., 2006) stated that that during the weak LC there is the possibility of reduced intensity of Indian winter monsoon and strong summer monsoon, because of change in the Indian Ocean dipole due to reduction in net heat input to the Indian Ocean through the Indonesian throughflow. Thus a better understanding of the possible links between El Nino, Western Pacific Warm Pool (WPWP), Indonesian throughflow, wind pattern off Western Australia, and ice volume expansion and contraction can be obtained by studying the behaviour of the LC during Quaternary at close stratigraphic intervals.


Monsoons may be considered as large-scale sea breezes, due to seasonal heating and the resulting development of a thermal low over a continental landmass. They are caused by the larger amplitude of the seasonal cycle of land temperature compared to that of nearby oceans. This differential warming happens because heat in the ocean is mixed vertically through a "mixed layer" that may be fifty metres deep, through the action of wind and buoyancy-generated turbulence, whereas the land surface conducts heat slowly, with the seasonal signal penetrating perhaps a metre or so. Additionally, the specific heat capacity of liquid water is significantly higher than that of most materials that make up land. Together, these factors mean that the heat capacity of the layer participating in the seasonal cycle is much larger over the oceans than over land, with the consequence that the air over the land warms faster and reaches a higher temperature than the air over the ocean. The hot air over the land tends to rise, creating an area of low pressure. This creates a steady wind blowing toward the land, bringing the moist near-surface air over the oceans with it. Similar rainfall is caused by the moist ocean air being lifted upwards by mountains, surface heating, convergence at the surface, divergence aloft, or from storm-produced outflows at the surface. However as the lifting occurs, the air cools due to expansion in lower pressure, which in turn produces condensation.

In winter, the land cools off quickly, but the ocean retains heat longer. The cold air over the land creates a high pressure area which produces a breeze from land to ocean. Monsoons are similar to sea and land breezes, a term usually referring to the localized, diurnal (daily) cycle of circulation near coastlines, but they are much larger in scale, stronger and seasonal.

As monsoons have become better understood, the term monsoon has been broadened to include almost all of the phenomena associated with the annual weather cycle within the tropical and subtropical land regions of the earth.

Even more broadly, it is now understood that in the geological past, monsoon systems must have always accompanied the formation of supercontinents such as Pangaea, with their extreme continental climates.

Asia-Australian Monsoon

The Asia-Australian monsoon is the dominant monsoon in the world. It may be classified into a few sub-systems, such as the South Asian Monsoon which affects the Indian Subcontinent and surrounding regions, the Indo-Australian monsoon which affects the Maritime Continent and North Australia, and the East Asian Monsoon which affects South Chinamarker, Koreamarker and parts of Japanmarker.

South Asian Monsoon

Late in Year

Onset dates and prevailing wind currents of the southwest summer monsoon.

Around September, with the sun fast retreating south, the northern land mass of the Indian subcontinent begins to cool off rapidly. With this air pressure begins to build over northern India. The Indian Oceanmarker and its surrounding atmosphere still holds its heat. This causes the cold wind to sweep down from the Himalayasmarker and Indo-Gangetic Plain towards the vast spans of the Indian Oceanmarker south of the Deccanmarker peninsula. This is known as the North-East Monsoon or Retreating Monsoon.

While traveling towards the Indian Oceanmarker, the dry cold wind picks up some moisture from the Bay of Bengalmarker and pours it over peninsular Indiamarker. Cities like Chennaimarker, which get less rain from the South-West Monsoon, receives rain from the Retreating Monsoon. About 50% - 60% of the rain received by the state of Tamil Nadumarker is from the North-East Monsoon.

In Southern Asia, the northeastern monsoons take place from December to early March when the surface high-pressure system is strongest. The jet stream in this region splits into the southern subtropical jet and the polar jet. The subtropical flow directs northeasterly winds to blow across southern Asia, creating dry air streams which produce clear skies over India. Meanwhile, a low pressure system develops over South-East Asia and Australasia and winds are directed toward Australia known as a monsoon trough.


The southwestern summer monsoons occur from June through September. The Great Indian Desert and adjoining areas of the northern and central Indian subcontinent heats up considerably during the hot summers. This causes a low pressure area over the northern and central Indian subcontinent. To fill this void, the moisture-laden winds from the Indian Oceanmarker rush in to the subcontinent. These winds, rich in moisture, are drawn towards the Himalayasmarker, creating winds blowing storm clouds towards the subcontinent. However the Himalayas act like a high wall and do not allow the winds to pass into Central Asia, forcing them to rise. With the gain in altitude of the clouds, the temperature drops and precipitation occurs. Some areas of the subcontinent receive up to 10,000 mm of rain.

The southwest monsoon is generally expected to begin around the start of June and dies down by the end of September. The moisture-laden winds on reaching the southernmost point of the Indian peninsula, due to its topology, become divided into two parts:
  • Arabian Sea Branch of the SW Monsoon
  • Bay of Bengal Branch of the SW Monsoon

The Arabian Sea Branch of the SW Monsoon first hits the Western Ghats of the coastal state of Keralamarker, Indiamarker and hence Keralamarker is the first state in India to receive rain from the South-West Monsoon. This branch of the monsoon moves northwards along the Western Ghats giving rain to the coastal areas west of the Western Ghats. It is to be noted that the eastern parts of the Western Ghats do not receive much rain from this monsoon as the wind does not cross the Western Ghats.

The Bay of Bengal Branch of SW Monsoon flows over the Bay of Bengalmarker heading towards North-Eastern India and Bengalmarker, picking up more moisture from the Bay of Bengalmarker. Its hits the Eastern Himalayamarker and provides a huge amount of rain to the regions of North-East India, Bangladeshmarker and West Bengalmarker. Mawsynrammarker, situated on the southern slopes of the Eastern Himalayamarker in Shillongmarker Indiamarker, is one of the wettest places on Earth. After striking the Eastern Himalayamarker it turns towards the West, travels over the Indo-Gangetic Plain, at a rate of roughly 1–2 weeks per state , pouring rain all along its way.

The monsoon accounts for 80 percent of the rainfall in the country . Indianmarker agriculture (which accounts for 25 percent of the GDP and employs 70 percent of the population) is heavily dependent on the rains, especially crops like cotton, rice, oilseeds and coarse grains. A delay of a few days in the arrival of the monsoon can, and does, badly affect the economy, as evidenced in the numerous droughts in Indiamarker in the 90s.

The monsoon is widely welcomed and appreciated by city-dwellers as well, for it provides relief from the climax of summer heat in June. However, the condition of the roads take a battering each year. Often houses and streets are waterlogged and the slums are flooded in spite of having a drainage system. This lack of city infrastructure coupled with changing climate patterns causes severe economical loss including damage to property and loss of lives, as evidenced in the Mumbai floods of 2005. Bangladeshmarker and certain regions of Indiamarker like Assammarker and West Bengalmarker also frequently experience heavy floods during this season. And in the recent past, areas in India that used to receive scanty rainfall throughout the year, like the Thar Desert, have surprisingly ended up receiving floods due to the prolonged monsoon season.

June 1 is regarded as the date of onset of the monsoon in India, as indicated by the arrival of the monsoon in the southernmost state of Kerala.

East Asian Monsoon

The East Asian monsoon affects large parts of Indochina, Philippines, China, Korea and Japan. It is characterised by a warm, rainy summer monsoon and a cold, dry winter monsoon. The rain occurs in a concentrated belt that stretches east-west except in East China where it is tilted east-northeast over Korea and Japan. The seasonal rain is known as Meiyu in China, Changma in Korea, and Bai-u in Japan, with the latter two resembling frontal rain.

The onset of the summer monsoon is marked by a period of premonsoonal rain over South China and Taiwan in early May. From May through August, the summer monsoon shifts through a series of dry and rainy phases as the rain belt moves northward, beginning over Indochina and the South China Sea (May), to the Yangtze River Basin and Japan (June) and finally to North China and Korea (July). When the monsoon ends in August, the rain belt moves back to South China.

Indo-Australian Monsoon

The Maritime Continent monsoon and the Australian monsoon may be considered to be the same system, the Indo-Australian monsoon. The rainy season occurs from September to February and it is a major source of energy for the Hadley circulation during boreal winter.

It is associated with the development of the Siberian High and the movement of the heating maxima from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere. North-easterly (from the North-east) winds flow down Southeast Asia, are turned North-westerly/Westerly by Borneo topography towards Australia. This forms a cyclonic circulation vortex over Borneo, which together with descending cold surges of winter air from higher latitudes, cause significant weather phenomena in the region. Examples are the formation of a rare low-latitude tropical storm in 2001, Tropical Storm Vamei, and the devastating flood of Jakarta in 2007.

The onset of the monsoon over the Maritime Continent tends to follow the heating maxima down the Vietnammarker and Malay Peninsula (September), to Sumatramarker, Borneomarker and the Philippinesmarker (October), to Javamarker, Sulawesimarker (November), Irian Jayamarker and North Australia (December, January). However, the monsoon is not a simple response to heating but a more complex interaction topography, wind and sea, as demonstrated by its abrupt rather than gradual withdrawal from the region. The Australian monsoon or rainy season occurs in the austral summer when the monsoon trough develops over Northern Australia. Over three-quarters of annual rainfall in Northern Australia fall during this time.


The monsoon of western sub-Saharan Africa has traditionally been thought to be the result of the seasonal shifts of the Intertropical Convergence Zone and the great seasonal temperature and humidity differences between the Sahara and the equatorial Atlantic Oceanmarker. It migrates northward from the equatorial Atlantic in February, reaches western Africa on June 22, then moves back to the south by October. The dry, northeasterly trade winds, and their more extreme form, the harmattan, are interrupted by the northern shift in the ITCZ and resultant southerly, rain-bearing winds during the summer. The semiarid Sahel and Sudan depend upon this pattern for most of their precipitationed area is desert.


North American Monsoon

The North American Monsoon (NAM) occurs from late June or early July into September, originating over Mexico and spreading into the southwest United States by mid-July. It affects Mexico along the Sierra Madre Occidental as well as Arizonamarker, New Mexicomarker, Nevadamarker, Utahmarker, Coloradomarker, West Texas, and Californiamarker. It pushes as far west as the Peninsular Ranges and Transverse Ranges of southern California, but rarely reaches the coastal strip (a wall of desert thunderstorms only a half-hour's drive away is a common summer sight from the sunny skies along the coast during the monsoon). The North American monsoon is known to many as the Summer, Southwest, Mexican or Arizona monsoon. It is also sometimes called the Desert Monsoon as a large part of the affected area are the Mojave and Sonoran Desertsmarker.


The European Monsoon (more correctly known as the Return of the Westerlies) is the result of a resurgence of westerly winds from the Atlantic, where they become loaded with wind and rain. These Westerly winds are a common phenomenon during the European winter, but they ease as Spring approaches in late March and through April and May. The winds pick up again in June, which is why this phenomenon is also referred to as "the return of the westerlies".

The rain usually arrives in two waves, at the beginning of June and again in mid to late June. The European monsoon is not a monsoon in the traditional sense in that it doesn't meet all the requirements to be classified as such. Instead the Return of the Westerlies is more regarded as a conveyor belt that delivers a series of low pressure centres to Western Europe where they create unseasonable weather. These storms generally feature significantly lower than average temperatures, fierce rain or hail, thunder and strong winds.

The Return of the Westerlies affects Europe's Northern Atlantic coastline, more precisely Irelandmarker, the Benelux, the UKmarker, Western Germanymarker, Northern Francemarker and parts of Scandinavia & Switzerlandmarker.

See also


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