Theoretical and Applied Climatology

, Volume 110, Issue 4, pp 499–508 | Cite as

Enhanced temperature variability in high-altitude climate change

Special Issue


In the present article, monthly mean temperature at 56 stations assembled in 18 regional groups in 10 major mountain ranges of the world were investigated. The periods of the analysis covered the last 50 to 110 years. The author found that the variability of temperature in climatic time scale tends to increase with altitude in about 65 % of the regional groups. A smaller number of groups, 20 %, showed the fastest change at an intermediate altitude between the peaks (or ridges) and their foot, while the remaining small number of sites, 15 %, showed the largest trends at the foot of mountains. This tendency provides a useful base for considering and planning the climate impact evaluations. The reason for the amplification of temperature variation at high altitudes is traced back to the increasing diabatic processes in the mid- and high troposphere as a result of the cloud condensation. This situation results from the fact that the radiation balance at the earth’s surface is transformed more efficiently into latent heat of evaporation rather than sensible heat, the ratio between them being 4 to 1. Variation in the surface evaporation is converted into heat upon condensation into cloud particles and ice crystals in the mid- and high troposphere. Therefore, this is the altitude where the result of the surface radiation change is effectively transferred. Further, the low temperature of the environment amplifies the effect of the energy balance variation on the surface temperature, as a result of the functional shape of Stefan–Boltzmann law. These processes altogether contribute to enhancing temperature variability at high altitudes. The altitude plays an important role in determining the temperature variability, besides other important factors such as topography, surface characteristics, cryosphere/temperature feedback and the frequency and intensity of an inversion. These processes have a profound effect not only on the ecosystem but also on glaciers and permafrost.


  1. Auer I, Böhm R, Jurkovic A, Lipa W, Orlik A, Potzmann R, Schöner W, Ungersböck M, Matulla C, Briffa K, Jones P, Efthyadis D, Brunetti M, Nanni T, Maugeri M, Mercalli L, Mestre O, Moisselin J-M, Begert M, Müller-Westermeier G, Kveton V, Bochnicek O, Stastny P, Lapin M, Szalai S, Szentimrey T, Cegnar T, Dolinar M, Gajic-Capka M, Zaninovic K, Majstorovic Z, Nieplova E (2007) HISTALP-historical instrumental climatological surface time series of the Greater Alpine Regions. Int J Climatol 27:17–46CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Barry RG (1992) Mountain weather and climate. Routledge, London, 402 ppGoogle Scholar
  3. Beniston M, Diaz HF, Bradley RS (1997) Climatic change at high elevation sites: an overview. Clim Chang 36:233–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Böhm R, Auer I, Schöner W, Ganekind M, Gruber C, Jurkovic A, Orlik A, Ungersböck M (2009) Eine neue Website mit instrumentellen Qualitätsklimadaten für den Grossraum Alpen zurück bis 1760. Bemessung, Risikoanalyse und Vorhersage, Wiener Mitteilungen, Bd. 216: Hochwässer, pp 7–20Google Scholar
  5. Diaz HF, Bradley RS (1997) Temperature variations during the last century at high elevation sites. Clim Chang 36:253–279CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Jones PD, Wigley TML (1990) Global warming trends. Sci Am 263:84–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Lanzante, J.R., Peterson, T.C., Wentz, F.J., and Vinnikov, K.Y. (2006) Chapter 3. What do observations indicate about the changes of temperatures in the atmosphere and at the surface since the advent of measuring temperature vertically? In: Karl, T.R., Hassol, S.J., Miller, C.D., and Murray, W.L. (eds.) Temperature trend in the lower atmosphere-step for understanding and reconciling differences. Synthesis and Assessment Product 1.1, pp. 47–70.Google Scholar
  8. Liu X, Chen B (2000) Climatic warming in the Tibetan Plateau during recent decades. Int J Climatol 20:1729–1942CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Messerli B, Ives JD (eds) (1997) Mountain of the world: a global priority. Parthenon, New York, 495 ppGoogle Scholar
  10. MeteoSwiss (2010) Originale und homogene Reihen im Vergleich—Temperaturentwicklung an 12 Standorten des MeteoSchweiz-Messnetzes mit langjährigen Messreihen ab 1964. Mitteilung Dezember 2010. Zurich, Bundesamt für Meteorologie u. Klimatologie, 5 ppGoogle Scholar
  11. Newell RE, Kidson JW, Vincent DG, Boer GJ (1972) The general circulation of the tropical atmosphere and the interactions with extratropical latitudes, vol 1. MIT Press, Cambridge, 258 pagesGoogle Scholar
  12. Ohmura A (1984) On the cause of “Fram” type seasonal change in diurnal amplitude of air temperature in polar regions. J Climatol 4:325–338CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ohmura A (2006) New radiation and energy balance of the world and its variability. In: Fischer H, Sohn B (eds) IRS 2004: current problems in atmospheric radiation, pp. 327–330.Google Scholar
  14. Pepin N (2000) Twentieth-century change in the climate record for the Front Range, Colorado, U.S.A. Arct Antarct Alp Res 32:135–146CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Pepin N, Seidel DJ (2005) A global comparison of surface and free-air temperatures at high elevations. Jour Geophys Res Do3104. doi:10.1029/2004JD005047
  16. Peterson TC, Vose RS (1997) An overview of the Global Historical Climatology Network Temperature Database. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 78:2837–2849CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Seidel D, Free M (2003) Comparison of lower-tropospheric temperature climatologies and trends at low and high elevation radiodonde sites. Clim Chang 59:53–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Shrestha AB, Wake CP, Mayewski PA, Dibb JE (1999) Maximum temperature trends in the Himalaya and its vicinity: an analysis based on temperature records from Nepal for the period 1971–1994. J Climate 12:2775–2787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Sterin AM, Khan VM, Rubinshtein K (2008) Upper-air temperature trends: current problems and some recent results. In: Brönnimann et al. (eds) Climate variability and extremes during the past 100 years. Advances in Global Change Research 33:85–101Google Scholar
  20. Trenberth KE, Jones PD, Ambenje P, Bojariu R, Easterling D, Klein Tank A, Parker D, Rahimzadeh F, Renwick JA, Rusticucci M, Soden B, Zhai P (2007) Observations: surface and atmospheric climate change. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, Chen Z, Marquis M, Averyt KB, Tignor M, Miller HL (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  21. Vuille M, Bradley RS (2000) Mean annual temperature trends and their vertical structure in the tropical Andes. Geophys Res Lett 27:3885–3888CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Vuille M, Bradley RS, Werner M, Keimig F (2003) 20th century climate change in the tropical andes: observations and model results. Clim Chang 59:75–99CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Atmospheric and Climate ScienceSwiss Federal Institute of Technology (E.T.H.)ZuerichSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations