Alpine climate

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White Mountain, an alpine environment at 4,300 metres (14,000 ft) above sea level in California White Mountain CA.JPG
White Mountain, an alpine environment at 4,300 metres (14,000 ft) above sea level in California

Alpine climate is the typical weather (climate) for the regions above the tree line. This climate is also referred to as a mountain climate or highland climate.

Weather Short-term state of the atmosphere

Weather is the state of the atmosphere, describing for example the degree to which it is hot or cold, wet or dry, calm or stormy, clear or cloudy. Most weather phenomena occur in the lowest level of the atmosphere, the troposphere, just below the stratosphere. Weather refers to day-to-day temperature and precipitation activity, whereas climate is the term for the averaging of atmospheric conditions over longer periods of time. When used without qualification, "weather" is generally understood to mean the weather of Earth.

Climate Statistics of weather conditions in a given region over long periods

On Earth, interactions between the five parts of the climate system that produce daily weather and long-term averages of weather are called "climate". Some of the meteorological variables that are commonly measured are temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind, and precipitation. The climate of a location is affected by its latitude, terrain, and altitude, as well as nearby water bodies and their currents.

Tree line edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing

The tree line is the edge of the habitat at which trees are capable of growing. It is found at high elevations and high latitudes. Beyond the tree line, trees cannot tolerate the environmental conditions. The tree line is sometimes distinguished from a lower timberline or forest line, which is the line below which trees form a forest with a closed canopy.

Contents

Definition

There are multiple definitions of alpine climate.

One simple definition is the climate which causes trees to fail to grow due to cold.

In the Köppen climate classification, the alpine and mountain climates are part of group E, along with the polar climate, where no month has a mean temperature higher than 10 °C (50 °F). [1]

Köppen climate classification climate classification system

The Köppen climate classification is one of the most widely used climate classification systems. It was first published by the German-Russian climatologist Wladimir Köppen (1846–1940) in 1884, with several later modifications by Köppen, notably in 1918 and 1936. Later, the climatologist Rudolf Geiger introduced some changes to the classification system, which is thus sometimes called the Köppen–Geiger climate classification system.

Polar climate

The polar climate regions are characterized by a lack of warm summers. Every month in a polar climate has an average temperature of less than 10 °C (50 °F). Regions with polar climate cover more than 20% of the Earth's area. Most of these regions are far from the equator, and in this case, winter days are extremely short and summer days are extremely long. A polar climate consists of cool summers and very cold winters, which results in treeless tundra, glaciers, or a permanent or semi-permanent layer of ice.

Temperature physical property of matter that quantitatively expresses the common notions of hot and cold

Temperature is a physical quantity expressing hot and cold. It is measured with a thermometer calibrated in one or more temperature scales. The most commonly used scales are the Celsius scale, Fahrenheit scale, and Kelvin scale. The kelvin is the unit of temperature in the International System of Units (SI). The Kelvin scale is widely used in science and technology.

According to the Holdridge life zone system, there are two mountain climates which prevent tree growth :

a) the alpine climate proper which occurs when the mean biotemperature of a location is between 1.5 and 3 °C (34.7 and 37.4 °F). The alpine climate¨in Holdridge system is roughly equivalent to the warmest tundra climates (ET) in Köppen system.

Tundra biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons

In physical geography, tundra is a type of biome where the tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The term tundra comes through Russian тундра from the Kildin Sámi word тӯндар meaning "uplands", "treeless mountain tract". Tundra vegetation is composed of dwarf shrubs, sedges and grasses, mosses, and lichens. Scattered trees grow in some tundra regions. The ecotone between the tundra and the forest is known as the tree line or timberline.

b) the alvar climate, the coldest mountain climate since the biotemperature is between 0°C and 1.5°C (biotemperature can never be below 0°C). It corresponds more or less to the coldest tundra climates and to the ice cap climates (EF) as well.

Ice cap climate

An ice cap climate is a polar climate where no mean monthly temperature exceeds 0 °C (32 °F). The climate covers areas in or near the polar regions, such as Antarctica and Greenland, as well as many high mountaintops. Such areas are covered by a permanent layer of ice and have no vegetation, but they may have animal life, that usually feeds from the oceans. Ice cap climates are inhospitable to human life. Antarctica, the coldest continent on Earth, sustains no permanent human residents, but has some civil inhabitants in proximity to research stations in coastal settlements that are maritime polar and there are some communities that are situated in a transitional zone between the two climates, but barely qualify as a tundra. Some places like Antarctica had a different climate before having an ice cap climate.

Holdrige reasoned that plants net primary productivity ceases at temperatures below 0 °C (32 °F) and above 30 °C (86 °F) [2] (plants are dormant) so he defined biotemperature as the mean of all temperatures but with all temperatures below freezing and above 30 °C adjusted to 0 °C (that is the sum of temperatures not adjusted divided by the number of all temperatures without any exception, be it adjusted or not).

Cause

The temperature profile of the atmosphere is a result of an interaction between radiation and convection. Sunlight in the visible spectrum hits the ground and heats it. The ground then heats the air at the surface. If radiation were the only way to transfer heat from the ground to space, the greenhouse effect of gases in the atmosphere would keep the ground at roughly 333 K (60 °C; 140 °F), and the temperature would decay exponentially with height. [3]

However, when air is hot, it tends to expand, which lowers its density. Thus, hot air tends to rise and transfer heat upward. This is the process of convection. Convection comes to equilibrium when a parcel of air at a given altitude has the same density as its surroundings. Air is a poor conductor of heat, so a parcel of air will rise and fall without exchanging heat. This is known as an adiabatic process, which has a characteristic pressure-temperature curve. As the pressure gets lower, the temperature decreases. The rate of decrease of temperature with elevation is known as the adiabatic lapse rate, which is approximately 9.8 °C per kilometer (or 5.4 °F per 1000 feet) of altitude. [3]

The presence of water in the atmosphere complicates the process of convection. Water vapor contains latent heat of vaporization. As air rises and cools, it eventually becomes saturated and cannot hold its quantity of water vapor. The water vapor condenses (forming clouds), and releases heat, which changes the lapse rate from the dry adiabatic lapse rate to the moist adiabatic lapse rate (5.5 °C per kilometre or 3 °F per 1000 feet). [4] The actual lapse rate, called the environmental lapse rate, is not constant (it can fluctuate throughout the day or seasonally and also regionally), but a normal lapse rate is 5.5 °C per 1,000 m (3.57 °F per 1,000 ft). [5] [6] Therefore, moving up 100 metres (330 ft) on a mountain is roughly equivalent to moving 80 kilometres (50 miles or 0.75° of latitude) towards the pole. [7] This relationship is only approximate, however, since local factors, such as proximity to oceans, can drastically modify the climate. [8] As the altitude increases, the main form of precipitation becomes snow and the winds increase. The temperature continues to drop until the tropopause, at 11,000 metres (36,000 ft), where it does not decrease further. This is higher than the highest summit.

Distribution

Although this climate classification only covers a small portion of the Earth's surface, alpine climates are widely distributed. They are present in the Himalayas, the Tibetan Plateau, Gansu, Qinghai, the Alps, the Pyrenees, the Cantabrian Mountains and the Sierra Nevada in Eurasia, the Andes in South America, the Sierra Nevada, the Cascade Mountains, the Rocky Mountains, the Appalachian Mountains, and the Trans-Mexican volcanic belt in North America, the Snowy Mountains in Australia, high elevations in the Atlas Mountains and the Eastern Highlands of Africa, and the central parts of Borneo and New Guinea and the summit of Mauna Loa in the Pacific.

The lowest altitude of alpine climate varies dramatically by latitude. If alpine climate is defined by the tree line, then it occurs as low as 650 metres (2,130 ft) at 68°N in Sweden, [9] while on Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, the tree line is at 3,950 metres (12,960 ft). [9]

Monthly variability

The variability of the alpine climate throughout the year depends on the latitude of the location. For tropical oceanic locations, such as the summit of Mauna Loa, elev. 13,679 ft (4,169 m), the temperature is roughly constant throughout the year:

Climate data for Mauna Loa slope observatory (1961–1990), extremes 1955–2012
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Record high °F (°C)67
(19)
85
(29)
65
(18)
67
(19)
68
(20)
71
(22)
70
(21)
68
(20)
67
(19)
66
(19)
65
(18)
67
(19)
85
(29)
Average high °F (°C)49.8
(9.9)
49.6
(9.8)
50.2
(10.1)
51.8
(11.0)
53.9
(12.2)
57.2
(14.0)
56.4
(13.6)
56.3
(13.5)
55.8
(13.2)
54.7
(12.6)
52.6
(11.4)
50.6
(10.3)
53.2
(11.8)
Average low °F (°C)33.3
(0.7)
32.9
(0.5)
33.2
(0.7)
34.6
(1.4)
36.6
(2.6)
39.4
(4.1)
38.8
(3.8)
38.9
(3.8)
38.5
(3.6)
37.8
(3.2)
36.2
(2.3)
34.3
(1.3)
36.2
(2.3)
Record low °F (°C)19
(−7)
18
(−8)
20
(−7)
24
(−4)
27
(−3)
28
(−2)
26
(−3)
28
(−2)
29
(−2)
27
(−3)
25
(−4)
22
(−6)
18
(−8)
Average precipitation inches (mm)2.3
(58)
1.5
(38)
1.7
(43)
1.3
(33)
1.0
(25)
0.5
(13)
1.1
(28)
1.5
(38)
1.3
(33)
1.1
(28)
1.7
(43)
2.0
(51)
17
(431)
Average snowfall inches (cm)0.0
(0.0)
1.0
(2.5)
0.3
(0.76)
1.3
(3.3)
0.0
(0.0)
0.0
(0.0)
0.0
(0.0)
0.0
(0.0)
0.0
(0.0)
0.0
(0.0)
0.0
(0.0)
1.0
(2.5)
3.6
(9.06)
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 inch)45654345555455
Source: NOAA [10] , WRCC [11]

For mid-latitude locations, such as Mount Washington the temperature varies seasonally, but never gets very warm:

Climate data for Mount Washington, elev. 6,267 ft (1,910.2 m) near the summit
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Record high °F (°C)48
(9)
43
(6)
54
(12)
60
(16)
66
(19)
72
(22)
71
(22)
72
(22)
69
(21)
62
(17)
52
(11)
47
(8)
72
(22)
Average high °F (°C)13.6
(−10.2)
14.7
(−9.6)
20.7
(−6.3)
30.4
(−0.9)
41.3
(5.2)
50.4
(10.2)
54.1
(12.3)
53.3
(11.8)
47.1
(8.4)
36.4
(2.4)
28.1
(−2.2)
18.4
(−7.6)
34.0
(1.1)
Daily mean °F (°C)4.8
(−15.1)
6.2
(−14.3)
12.9
(−10.6)
23.9
(−4.5)
35.6
(2.0)
45.0
(7.2)
49.1
(9.5)
48.2
(9.0)
41.6
(5.3)
30.2
(−1.0)
20.7
(−6.3)
10.1
(−12.2)
27.4
(−2.6)
Average low °F (°C)−4.1
(−20.1)
−2.4
(−19.1)
5.0
(−15.0)
17.4
(−8.1)
29.8
(−1.2)
39.5
(4.2)
44.0
(6.7)
43.0
(6.1)
36.1
(2.3)
24.0
(−4.4)
13.3
(−10.4)
1.7
(−16.8)
20.6
(−6.3)
Record low °F (°C)−47
(−44)
−46
(−43)
−38
(−39)
−20
(−29)
−2
(−19)
8
(−13)
24
(−4)
20
(−7)
9
(−13)
−5
(−21)
−20
(−29)
−46
(−43)
−47
(−44)
Average precipitation inches (mm)6.44
(164)
6.77
(172)
7.67
(195)
7.44
(189)
8.18
(208)
8.40
(213)
8.77
(223)
8.32
(211)
8.03
(204)
9.27
(235)
9.85
(250)
7.73
(196)
96.87
(2,460)
Average snowfall inches (cm)44.0
(112)
40.1
(102)
45.1
(115)
35.6
(90)
12.2
(31)
1.0
(2.5)
0.0
(0.0)
0.1
(0.25)
2.2
(5.6)
17.6
(45)
37.8
(96)
45.5
(116)
281.2
(714)
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)19.717.919.017.417.416.816.515.213.916.819.120.7210.4
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)19.317.316.613.16.40.90.10.21.79.114.619.2118.5
Mean monthly sunshine hours 92.0106.9127.6143.2171.3151.3145.0130.5127.2127.182.483.11,487.6
Percent possible sunshine 32363435373331303437293033
Source #1: NOAA (normals 1981–2010, sun 1961–1990) [12] [13] [14]
Source #2: extremes 1933–present [15] [16]

See also

Related Research Articles

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A mountain is a large landform that rises above the surrounding land in a limited area, usually in the form of a peak. A mountain is generally steeper than a hill. Mountains are formed through tectonic forces or volcanism. These forces can locally raise the surface of the earth. Mountains erode slowly through the action of rivers, weather conditions, and glaciers. A few mountains are isolated summits, but most occur in huge mountain ranges.

Troposphere The lowest layer of the atmosphere

The troposphere is the lowest layer of Earth's atmosphere, and is also where nearly all weather conditions take place. It contains approximately 75% of the atmosphere's mass and 99% of the total mass of water vapour and aerosols. The average height of the troposphere is in the tropics, 17 km in the middle latitudes, and 6 km in the polar regions in winter. The total average height of the troposphere is 13 km.

Altitude or height is defined based on the context in which it is used. As a general definition, altitude is a distance measurement, usually in the vertical or "up" direction, between a reference datum and a point or object. The reference datum also often varies according to the context. Although the term altitude is commonly used to mean the height above sea level of a location, in geography the term elevation is often preferred for this usage.

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Alpine tundra biome

Alpine tundra is a type of natural region or biome that does not contain trees because it is at high elevation. As the latitude of a location approaches the poles, the threshold elevation for alpine tundra gets lower until it reaches sea level, and alpine tundra merges with polar tundra.

The lapse rate is the rate at which an atmospheric variable, normally temperature in Earth's atmosphere, changes with altitude. Lapse rate arises from the word lapse, in the sense of a gradual change. It corresponds to the vertical component of the spatial gradient of temperature. Although this concept is most often applied to the Earth's troposphere, it can be extended to any gravitationally supported parcel of gas.

Equivalent potential temperature, commonly referred to as theta-e , is a quantity that is conserved during changes to an air parcel's pressure, even if water vapor condenses during that pressure change. It is therefore more conserved than the ordinary potential temperature, which remains constant only for unsaturated vertical motions.

International Standard Atmosphere Atmospheric model

The International Standard Atmosphere (ISA) is a static atmospheric model of how the pressure, temperature, density, and viscosity of the Earth's atmosphere change over a wide range of altitudes or elevations. It has been established to provide a common reference for temperature and pressure and consists of tables of values at various altitudes, plus some formulas by which those values were derived. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) publishes the ISA as an international standard, ISO 2533:1975. Other standards organizations, such as the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the United States Government, publish extensions or subsets of the same atmospheric model under their own standards-making authority.

Cumulus humilis cloud cloud species

Cumulus humilis are cumuliform clouds with little vertical extent, common in the summer, that are often referred to as "fair weather cumulus". If they develop into cumulus mediocris or cumulus congestus, thunderstorms could form later in the day.

Thermodynamic diagrams Diagram showing the thermodynamic states of a material

Thermodynamic diagrams are diagrams used to represent the thermodynamic states of a material and the consequences of manipulating this material. For instance, a temperature–entropy diagram may be used to demonstrate the behavior of a fluid as it is changed by a compressor.

Convective instability

In meteorology, convective instability or stability of an air mass refers to its ability to resist vertical motion. A stable atmosphere makes vertical movement difficult, and small vertical disturbances dampen out and disappear. In an unstable atmosphere, vertical air movements tend to become larger, resulting in turbulent airflow and convective activity. Instability can lead to significant turbulence, extensive vertical clouds, and severe weather such as thunderstorms.

Level of free convection

The level of free convection (LFC) is the altitude in the atmosphere where the temperature of the environment decreases faster than the moist adiabatic lapse rate of a saturated air parcel at the same level.

Lifted condensation level

The lifted condensation level or lifting condensation level (LCL) is formally defined as the height at which the relative humidity (RH) of an air parcel will reach 100% with respect to liquid water when it is cooled by dry adiabatic lifting. The RH of air increases when it is cooled, since the amount of water vapor in the air remains constant, while the saturation vapor pressure decreases almost exponentially with decreasing temperature. If the air parcel is lifting further beyond the LCL, water vapor in the air parcel will begin condensing, forming cloud droplets. The LCL is a good approximation of the height of the cloud base which will be observed on days when air is lifted mechanically from the surface to the cloud base.

Atmospheric thermodynamics is the study of heat-to-work transformations that take place in the earth's atmosphere and manifest as weather or climate. Atmospheric thermodynamics use the laws of classical thermodynamics, to describe and explain such phenomena as the properties of moist air, the formation of clouds, atmospheric convection, boundary layer meteorology, and vertical instabilities in the atmosphere. Atmospheric thermodynamic diagrams are used as tools in the forecasting of storm development. Atmospheric thermodynamics forms a basis for cloud microphysics and convection parameterizations used in numerical weather models and is used in many climate considerations, including convective-equilibrium climate models.

The convective condensation level (CCL) represents the height where an air parcel becomes saturated when heated from below and lifted adiabatically due to buoyancy.

Atmospheric convection

Atmospheric convection is the result of a parcel-environment instability, or temperature difference layer in the atmosphere. Different lapse rates within dry and moist air masses lead to instability. Mixing of air during the day which expands the height of the planetary boundary layer leads to increased winds, cumulus cloud development, and decreased surface dew points. Moist convection leads to thunderstorm development, which is often responsible for severe weather throughout the world. Special threats from thunderstorms include hail, downbursts, and tornadoes.

Atmospheric instability

Atmospheric instability is a condition where the Earth's atmosphere is generally considered to be unstable and as a result the weather is subjected to a high degree of variability through distance and time. Atmospheric stability is a measure of the atmosphere's tendency to discourage or deter vertical motion, and vertical motion is directly correlated to different types of weather systems and their severity. In unstable conditions, a lifted thing, such as a parcel of air will be warmer than the surrounding air at altitude. Because it is warmer, it is less dense and is prone to further ascent.

Montane ecosystems ecosystems found in mountains

Montane ecosystems refers to any ecosystem found in mountains. These ecosystems are strongly affected by climate, which gets colder as elevation increases. They are stratified according to elevation. Dense forests are common at moderate elevations. However, as the elevation increases, the climate becomes harsher, and the plant community transitions to grasslands or tundra.

References

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