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The climate of the Galapagos islands is unusually dry for the tropics. There are two main seasons, each of which has a dramatic effect on the vegetation. From January to June, air temperatures are warm and the skies are usually clear with occasional heavy rain showers. From June to December, the air is cooler, the skies are often lightly overcast, and there is virtually no precipitation in the lowlands, while the highlands are almost continually wet. The January to June season is known as the warm/wet season and the July to December as the garúa or cool/dry season. During the garúa season, prevailing winds are from season winds from the east prevail, and the sea is more gentle. Between seasons, the weather is highly variable and unpredictable. This interseasonal period may last as much as couple of months and the dates may vary from year to year. The climate in different parts of the archipelago is also varied. Sea temperature in the islands ranges from as low as 16 C to as high as 28 C depending on season and site.
The Galapagos islands are distant from any other land mass, and consequently their climate is largely determined by the ocean currents which bathe the archipelago. During the garúa season, cooler waters from the Humboldt current are dominant with average sea temperatures of 22 C in Academy Bay.
As a result, air temperatures are cool and an inversion layer is created. The moisture evaporating from the sea is concentrated in this inversion layer and only the higher parts or islands, which intercept this layer, receive rain. The lowlands areas remain dry though cool.
During the warm season, the southeast trade winds, shich drive the cool currents, diminish in sthength and warmer water from the Panama Basin flow through the islands. The islands experience a more typical tropical climate with blue skies and occasional heavy rain showers.
In some years, the flow of warm waters is much greater than normal, and an El Nino year results. Surface water temperatures are higher and rainfall can increase greatly. Life on land burgeons but seabirds, which depend on the productive cooler waters, may experience dramatic breeding failures.
There is a great variability in rainfall from year to tear, as well as from place to place, and with altitude. Climatic records have been maintained for several years bye the Charles Darwin Research Station and National Park personnel.
The Galapagos climate is unpredictable and often severe, especially in the lowlands. The severity of the environment and its unpredictability are in part responsible for the fact that so few species can survive in the Galapagos. The occasional drought years place strong natural selective pressures on plant and animal species that live in the islands.
These droughts have probably played an important role in shaping the evolution of these species. Plants, animals, geology and climate have all interacted, and continue to interact, in a multitude of ways to create the Galapagos as we know them now. It is only through an understanding of these various factors , and how they interrelate, that we can begin to understand the mysterious ways of nature.