Encyclopedic Entry

Clear skies, beautiful beaches . . . must be the tropics.

Photograph by Mary Ann Tardif, My Shot

The Snows of Kilimanjaro
Elevation can affect the climate of a tropical region. Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, with an elevation of 5,895 meters (19,340 feet), is a tropical mountain cold enough to support glaciers.

The tropics are regions of the Earth that lie roughly in the middle of the globe. The tropics between the latitude lines of the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The tropics include the Equator and parts of North America, South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia. The tropics account for 36 percent of the Earth's landmass and are home to about a third of the world's people.

The tropics are warm all year, averaging 25 to 28 degrees Celsius (77 to 82 degrees Fahrenheit). This is because the tropics get more exposure to the sun. Because of all that sun, the tropics don't experience the kind of seasons the rest of the Earth does. The tropical seasons are broken up into just two: the wet season and the dry season.

The amount of rain can vary greatly from one area of the tropics to another. Some areas, like parts of the Amazon Basin in South America, get almost 3 meters (9 feet) of rain per year. Other areas in the tropics have a drier climate. The Sahara Desert in northern Africa only gets 2-10 centimeters (.793.9 inches) of rain per year.

The amount of rain a region gets in the tropics directly affects which plant and animal species live there. The baobab tree thrives in the arid tropics of Africa, for instance. The baobab stores water in its huge trunk. On the other extreme is the rainy island of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Sri Lanka gets enough precipitation to support 250 species of frogs.

Vocabulary

Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry

arid

Adjective

dry.

baobab

Noun

tree native to Africa, Australia, and Madagascar.

climate

Noun

all weather conditions for a given location over a period of time.

Encyclopedic Entry: climate

Earth

Noun

our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

Encyclopedic Entry: Earth

Equator

Noun

imaginary line around the Earth, another planet, or star running east-west, 0 degrees latitude.

Encyclopedic Entry: equator

glacier

Noun

mass of ice that moves slowly over land.

Encyclopedic Entry: glacier

globe

Noun

scale model of the Earth.

Encyclopedic Entry: globe

landmass

Noun

large area of land.

latitude

Noun

distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.

Encyclopedic Entry: latitude

precipitation

Noun

all forms in which water falls to Earth from the atmosphere.

Encyclopedic Entry: precipitation

Tropic of Cancer

Noun

line of latitude 23.5 degrees north of the Equator.

Tropic of Capricorn

Noun

line of latitude 23.5 degrees south of the Equator.

tropics

Noun

region generally located between the Tropic of Cancer (23 1/2 degrees north of the Equator) and the Tropic of Capricorn (23 1/2 degrees south of the Equator).

Encyclopedic Entry: tropics

trunk

Noun

main shaft or stem of a tree.

Credits

Media Credits

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Writer

Kim Rutledge
Melissa McDaniel
Diane Boudreau
Tara Ramroop
Santani Teng
Erin Sprout
Hilary Costa
Hilary Hall
Jeff Hunt

Illustrator

Tim Gunther
Mary Crooks, National Geographic Society

Editor

Kara West
Jeannie Evers

Educator Reviewer

Nancy Wynne

Producer

Caryl-Sue, National Geographic Society

Sources

Dunn, Margery G. (Editor). (1989, 1993). "Exploring Your World: The Adventure of Geography." Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Society.

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