Climatic Change

, Volume 114, Issue 3–4, pp 527–547 | Cite as

Climate change in mountains: a review of elevation-dependent warming and its possible causes

  • Imtiaz RangwalaEmail author
  • James R. Miller


Available observations suggest that some mountain regions are experiencing seasonal warming rates that are greater than the global land average. There is also evidence from observational and modeling studies for an elevation-dependent climate response within some mountain regions. Our understanding of climate change in mountains, however, remains challenging owing to inadequacies in observations and models. In fact, it is still uncertain whether mountainous regions generally are warming at a different rate than the rest of the global land surface, or whether elevation-based sensitivities in warming rates are prevalent within mountains. We review studies of four high mountain regions – the Swiss Alps, the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the Tibetan Plateau/Himalayas, and the Tropical Andes – to examine questions related to the sensitivity of climate change to surface elevation. We explore processes that could lead to enhanced warming within mountain regions and possible mechanisms that can produce altitudinal gradients in warming rates on different time scales. A conclusive understanding of these responses will continue to elude us in the absence of a more comprehensive network of climate monitoring in mountains.


Tibetan Plateau Black Carbon Mountain Region National Weather Service High Mountain Region 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We are very thankful to the three anonymous reviewers for their time and insightful comments that have significantly improved our manuscript. We thank G. Greenwood for advising us to undertake this work and M. Vuille for providing us the temperature trend calculations for tropical Andes. IR acknowledges the support of the UCAR PACE fellowship for this work, and the technical and material assistance received at NOAA ESRL’s Physical Sciences Division. Partial support for JRM was provided by Project 32103 of the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station. This work was also partially supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation (AGS-1064326).


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Physical Sciences DivisionNOAA Earth System Research LaboratoryBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Department of Marine and Coastal SciencesRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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