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

Imtiaz Rangwala, James R. Miller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

309 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)527-547
Number of pages21
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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