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Weather buffs know that highs and lows swing in tandem across a continent, but a new study shows that climate extremes on one part of the planet are routinely reflected by opposite conditions a world away.
The result is a newfound climatic yin-yang that can have unfortunate and tragic consequences for the regions involved.
When the Congo Basin floods, South America’s Amazon basin experiences a drought. And conversely, when tropical storms lash in the Amazon to the point of flooding, it’s dangerously dry in the Congo Basin.
The see-saw climate oscillation was discovered by a team of MIT environmental engineers who studied regional satellite observations of tropical rainfall and river flow.
The see-saw pattern can be explained by an atmospheric cycle that repeats itself. In flooded areas, hot moist air rises, which then condenses into vapor that helps form rain clouds. That rising and falling motion associated with the flood forces clear skies and inhibits rain in surrounding regions, in this case over the corresponding basin across the Atlantic Ocean.