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Circulation in the Atmosphere

The atmosphere is made up of six circulation cells, three in each hemisphere, with low and high pressure zone at the boundaries between them.

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Winds of Discovery

Winds of Discovery

Credit: anonymous
Source: Portuguese (1502) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cantino_planisphere_(1502).jpg
License: CC BY-NC 3.0

This map shows a map of the world as known to Europeans in 1502. Portuguese sailors had a good understanding of winds.

Why It Matters

  • In the 15th century, the Portuguese and Spanish wanted easy routes to riches, spices and slaves.
  • Early sailing ships did not stray far from land.
  • To cross the oceans, ships had to use winds and currents.
  • The European expansion could only proceed across oceans as mariners learned about the winds and currents.
  • Credit: KVDP
    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_prevailing_winds_on_earth.png
    License: CC BY-NC 3.0

    Wind patterns on Earth (2009) [Figure2]

Explore More

With the links below, learn more about sailing ships. Then answer the following questions.

  1. Why was the discovery of wind patterns so important to the 15th century Portuguese?
  2. What partially fueled the new European economy in the 16th century?
  3. How were the Trade Winds used for exploration and trade in the Atlantic Ocean?
  4. How were the winds of the Indian Ocean used for trade with Asia?
  5. Ships today use currents to get a boost when sailing between points, but they no longer go far out of their way to catch a wind or current. How do ships travel the seas now?

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Image Attributions

  1. [1]^ Credit: anonymous; Source: Portuguese (1502) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Cantino_planisphere_(1502).jpg; License: CC BY-NC 3.0
  2. [2]^ Credit: KVDP; Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Map_prevailing_winds_on_earth.png; License: CC BY-NC 3.0

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