From the University of Massachusetts at Amherst
High mountains warming faster than expected
UMass Amherst climate scientist and international team call for extra attention
AMHERST, Mass. – High elevation environments around the world may be warming much faster than previously thought, according to members of an international research team including Raymond Bradley, director of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. They call for more aggressive monitoring of temperature changes in mountain regions and more attention to the potential consequences of warming.
“Elevation-dependent warming is a poorly observed phenomenon that requires urgent attention to ensure that potentially important changes in high mountain environments are adequately monitored by the global observational network,” say members of the Mountain Research Initiative Working Group in the current issue of Nature Climate Change.
High mountains are the major water source for large numbers of people living at lower elevations, so the social and economic consequences of enhanced warming in mountain regions could be large, the researchers add. “This alone requires that close attention be paid to the issue. In addition, mountains provide habitat for many of the world’s rare and endangered species, and the presence of many different ecosystems in close proximity enhances the ecological sensitivity of mountains to environmental change.”
Lead author Nick Pepin of the University of Portsmouth, U.K., says, “There is growing evidence that high mountain regions are warming faster than lower elevations and such warming can accelerate many other environmental changes such as glacial melt and vegetation change, but scientists urgently need more and better data to confirm this. If we are right and mountains are warming more rapidly than other environments, the social and economic consequences could be serious, and we could see more dramatic changes much sooner than previously thought.”
UMass Amherst’s Bradley adds that without substantially better information, there is a risk of underestimating the severity of a number of problems, including water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine flora and fauna.
He says, “We are calling for special efforts to be made to extend scientific observations upwards to the highest summits to capture what is happening across the world’s mountains. We also need a strong effort to find, collate and evaluate observational data that already exists wherever it is in the world. This requires international collaboration.”
Records of weather patterns at high altitudes are “extremely sparse,” the researchers found. There are very few weather stations above 14,700 feet (4,500 m), and long-term data, crucial for detecting patterns, doesn’t yet exist above 16,400 feet (5,000 m) anywhere in the world. The authors say the longest observations above this elevation are from the summit of Kilimanjaro, which have been maintained for more than a decade by Douglas Hardy of UMass Amherst.
For this study, Pepin, Bradley and colleagues reviewed elevation-dependent warming mechanisms such as loss of snow and ice, increased latent heat release at high altitudes, low-elevation aerosol pollutants that increase the difference in warming rates between low and high elevations, plus other factors that enhance warming with elevation in different regions, and in different seasons.
They discuss future needs to improve knowledge of mountain temperature trends and mechanisms via improved observations, satellite-based remote sensing and model simulations. Noting that “many factors make it extremely difficult to determine the rate of warming in mountainous regions,” the team reports the most striking evidence that mountain regions are warming more rapidly than surrounding regions comes from the Tibetan plateau, where temperatures have risen steadily over the past 50 years and the rate of change is accelerating.
This research team with members from the U.K., U.S., Switzerland, Canada, Ecuador, Pakistan, China, Italy, Austria and Kazakhstan, came together as part of the Mountain Research Initiative, a mountain global change research effort funded by the Swiss National Foundation.
Note: The name of the paper wasn’t included in the press release, so I took the liberty of looking it up.
Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world
Nature Climate Change5,424–430(2015) doi:10.1038/nclimate2563
There is growing evidence that the rate of warming is amplified with elevation, such that high-mountain environments experience more rapid changes in temperature than environments at lower elevations. Elevation-dependent warming (EDW) can accelerate the rate of change in mountain ecosystems, cryospheric systems, hydrological regimes and biodiversity. Here we review important mechanisms that contribute towards EDW: snow albedo and surface-based feedbacks; water vapour changes and latent heat release; surface water vapour and radiative flux changes; surface heat loss and temperature change; and aerosols. All lead to enhanced warming with elevation (or at a critical elevation), and it is believed that combinations of these mechanisms may account for contrasting regional patterns of EDW. We discuss future needs to increase knowledge of mountain temperature trends and their controlling mechanisms through improved observations, satellite-based remote sensing and model simulations.
Since they seem to be focused on the Tibetan Plateau, one wonders if this isn’t just another hyped up claim like Himalya-gate. The langage in the PR seems similar, worrying about “…there is a risk of underestimating the severity of a number of problems, including water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine flora and fauna.”.
From what I can tell, they are using GHCN data for high elevation stations, such as the one from the nearby cosmic ray monitoring station., in Banf, Alberta. In 1903, a meteorological observatory building was completed on Sanson Peak, named in 1948 in honour of Norman Bethune Sanson, the observer who tended the recording equipment for nearly 30 years. There is also a
Elevation: 2283m (7490 ft)
The GISS plot of the GHCN data doesn’t seem to show much in the way of recent warming though. In fact, even though the record is incomplete, the most recent data segment looks to be a bit cooler.
Though given that such places tend to attract the curious, who want to climb the mountain to be close to the science…
…one wonders if similar weather observatories in Tibet aren’t simply seeing the effects of increased tourism, resulting in land use modification.
After all, Al Gore’s claim of warming on Mount Kilimanjaro:
Mount Kilimanjaro. Mr. Gore asserted that the disappearance of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro in East Africa was expressly attributable to global warming; “Within the decade, there will be no more snows of Kilimanjaro.” That was in 2005 in his movie An Inconvenient Truth.
…turned out to be nothing more than land use change around the mountain, resulting in less evapotranspiration, less snow, and therefore a lower albedo, which tends to make the mountaintop warmer with all that exposed rock. Yep, it’s the trees.
And now, the snow is coming back to Kilimanjaro.