, Volume 171, Issue 2, pp 335–337

On the use of elevation, altitude, and height in the ecological and climatological literature

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DOI: 10.1007/s00442-012-2416-7

Cite this article as:
McVicar, T.R. & Körner, C. Oecologia (2013) 171: 335. doi:10.1007/s00442-012-2416-7


Effective communication regarding distance in the vertical dimension is critical for many ecological, climatological and broader geophysical studies of the Earth. Confusion exists regarding the definition of three English words commonly used to describe the vertical dimension: (1) elevation; (2) altitude; and (3) height. While used interchangeably in “everyday” non-technical English, here we provide explicit definitions and strongly recommend their use in scientific literature. We briefly discuss the likely origins of the sub-optimal use of these three words due to translations between languages. Finally, we provide examples of how using these terms, as explicitly defined herein, improves scientific communication.


ElevationAltitudeHeightLapse rate

Supplementary material

442_2012_2416_MOESM1_ESM.doc (149 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOC 149 kb)

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO Land and WaterCanberraAustralia
  2. 2.Institute of BotanyUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland