Theoretical and Applied Climatology

, Volume 110, Issue 4, pp 499–508

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.

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

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

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