Altitudinal zonation

Altitudinal zonation

In mountainous areas the climate, soil properties, the flora and fauna change depending on elevation.

Geography

Keywords

zones, climate, climate zones, regions of vegetation, mountain range, mountain, cold zone, temperate zone, tropical zone, mountains, snowline, sun's ray, angle of inclination, vegetation, slope, precipitation, foehn wind, airflow, nature, geography, _javasolt

Related items

Scenes

Geo-climatic zones

  • North Pole
  • Arctic Circle - A notable parallel of latitude at 66.5° N. In regions north of this parallel there is at least one day when the Sun does not set and one when the Sun does not rise.
  • Tropic of Cancer - A notable parallel of latitude at 23.5° N. It is the northernmost latitude where the Sun’s angle may reach 90° (which happens once a year, at the time of the Summer solstice, on 22 June).
  • Equator - A circle of latitude at 0°.
  • Tropic of Capricorn - A notable parallel of latitude at 23.5° S. It is the southernmost latitude where the Sun’s angle may reach 90° (which happens once a year, at the time of the Winter solstice, on 22 December).
  • Antarctic Circle - A notable parallel of latitude at 66.5° S. In regions south of this parallel there is at least one day in the year when the Sun does not set and one when the Sun does not rise.
  • South Pole

The Earth is spherical in shape. This causes the Sun’s rays to hit the Earth’s surface at different angles, resulting in differences in the Earth’s temperature. Moving from the Equator towards the poles, the angle of the Sun’s rays hitting the Earth becomes gradually lower. While the maximum angle of the Sun’s rays is 90° at the Equator, that is, they hit the Earth's surface perpendicularly, at the poles this angle can be as low as . Therefore, less heat from the Sun reaches the poles, causing a lower temperature there. Consequently, there are different climate zones on the Earth's surface: these are the tropical, temperate and polar zones.

The climate of an area fundamentally affects soil property as well as the flora and fauna, the hydrologic properties and the surface-forming processes. Both climate and geographical features like these are also arranged in zones collectively called geographical zones (or geo-climatic zones).

Altitudinal zones (diagram)

  • m
  • 0
  • 1,000
  • 2,000
  • 3,000
  • 4,000
  • 5,000
  • 6,000
  • 7,000
  • Tropical zone
  • Temperate zone
  • Polar zone
  • Latitudinal belts
  • Altitudinal zones
  • snow line
  • 23.5°
  • 66.5°
  • 90°

Climatic elements that define the zones in the mountains change with altitude: the temperature drops and the precipitation generally increases as the elevation increases. The decrease of temperature does not only create geo-climatic zones horizontally, depending on the distance from the Equator, but also vertically in the mountains. Soil, surface-forming processes, and flora and fauna are also arranged in zones in the mountains. This is called altitudinal zonation.

Altitudinal zones (vegetation)

  • Tropical zone
  • Temperate zone
  • Polar zone

The boundaries of altitudinal zones are located at different altitudes in mountains situated at different geographical latitudes. This is why the starting temperature is not the same at the base of mountains at different geographical latitudes. The lowest level within the altitudinal zones corresponds to the zone of the geographical latitude of a particular mountain, and the number of altitudinal zones depends on the height of the mountain. Mountains located near the Equator, i.e. at lower geographical latitudes, will have the highest number of altitudinal zones, for instance, the Andes in South America. Each zone can be differentiated from the other based on the snow line, which is the lowest level where snow covers the ground all year long, or the tree line, the upper topographical limit where trees can still grow.

Temperature change

  • South
  • North
  • solar radiation

Aspect

Just as the boundaries of latitudinal belts are not parallel to, and thus not defined by, any lines of latitude, the boundaries of altitudinal zones are not marked by a contour line. They are influenced by topography, the prevailing winds and the aspect of a mountain's slope, as the angle of the Sun's rays is different at the north- and south-facing slopes of a mountain. Since the angles of the Sun's rays hit the south-facing slope at a greater angle, a larger amount of heat accumulates at a unit area. As a result, the rise in temperature is more significant on the south-facing slope.

Altitude

The temperature of the air drops by 1°C for every 100-metre rise in altitude. The colder the air, the less water vapour it can contain. As a result, when the air reaches the dew point, it reaches a temperature at which it becomes saturated with water vapour, which leads to cloud formation and precipitation, which occurs in the form of rain above 0 °C and snow in subzero temperatures. After reaching the dew point, the temperature of the rising air drops by only 0.5°C for every 100-metre rise in altitude because the heat released during precipitation reduces the rate of cooling in the air. After the air reaches the peak of the mountain, it descends on the opposite slope and its temperature increases by 1°C for every 100-metre decrease in altitude. No precipitation occurs on this side since the warming air can contain more water vapour; however, its actual water vapour content does not change. Therefore, air is drier and warmer on this side.

Animation

  • North Pole
  • Arctic Circle - A notable parallel of latitude at 66.5° N. In regions north of this parallel there is at least one day when the Sun does not set and one when the Sun does not rise.
  • Tropic of Cancer - A notable parallel of latitude at 23.5° N. It is the northernmost latitude where the Sun’s angle may reach 90° (which happens once a year, at the time of the Summer solstice, on 22 June).
  • Equator - A circle of latitude at 0°.
  • Tropic of Capricorn - A notable parallel of latitude at 23.5° S. It is the southernmost latitude where the Sun’s angle may reach 90° (which happens once a year, at the time of the Winter solstice, on 22 December).
  • Antarctic Circle - A notable parallel of latitude at 66.5° S. In regions south of this parallel there is at least one day in the year when the Sun does not set and one when the Sun does not rise.
  • South Pole
  • m
  • 0
  • 1,000
  • 2,000
  • 3,000
  • 4,000
  • 5,000
  • 6,000
  • 7,000
  • Tropical zone
  • Temperate zone
  • Polar zone
  • Latitudinal belts
  • Altitudinal zones
  • snow line
  • 23.5°
  • 66.5°
  • 90°
  • Tropical zone
  • Temperate zone
  • Polar zone
  • tree line - The upper topographical limit where trees can still grow.
  • snow line - The lowest level where snow covers the ground all year long.
  • South
  • North
  • solar radiation
  • rising air currents - The temperature of the rising air drops by 1°C for every 100-metre rise in altitude. However, after reaching the dew point, it drops by only 0.5°C for every 100-metre rise in altitude.
  • descending air current - The temperature of the descending air increases by 1°C for every 100-metre decrease in altitude.
  • cloud formation
  • condensation
  • dry weather
  • 600 m = 22 °C
  • 2,600 m = 2 °C
  • 3,000 m = 0 °C
  • 4,600 m = – 8 °C
  • 3,000 m = 8 °C
  • 600 m = 32 °C
  • dew point - The temperature at which air becomes saturated with water vapour and dew starts to form.
  • foehn wind - A dry wind that descends in the mountains.

Narration

The Earth is spherical in shape. This causes the Sun’s rays to hit the Earth’s surface at different angles, resulting in differences in the Earth’s temperature. Moving from the Equator towards the poles, the angle of the Sun’s rays hitting the Earth becomes gradually lower. While the maximum angle of the Sun’s rays is 90° at the Equator, that is, they hit the Earth's surface perpendicularly, at the poles this angle can be as low as . Therefore, less heat from the Sun reaches the poles, causing a lower temperature there. Consequently, there are different climate zones on the Earth's surface: these are the tropical, temperate and polar zones.

The climate of an area fundamentally affects soil property as well as the flora and fauna, the hydrologic properties and the surface-forming processes. Both climate and geographical features like these are also arranged in zones collectively called geographical zones (or geo-climatic zones).

Climatic elements that define the zones in the mountains change with altitude: the temperature drops and the precipitation generally increases as the elevation increases. The decrease of temperature does not only create geo-climatic zones horizontally, depending on the distance from the Equator, but also vertically in the mountains. Soil, surface-forming processes, and flora and fauna are also arranged in zones in the mountains. This is called altitudinal zonation.

The boundaries of altitudinal zones are located at different altitudes in mountains situated at different geographical latitudes. This is why the starting temperature is not the same at the base of mountains at different geographical latitudes. The lowest level within the altitudinal zones corresponds to the zone of the geographical latitude of a particular mountain, and the number of altitudinal zones depends on the height of the mountain. Mountains located near the Equator, i.e. at lower geographical latitudes, will have the highest number of altitudinal zones, for instance, the Andes in South America. Each zone can be differentiated from the other based on the snow line, which is the lowest level where snow covers the ground all year long, or the tree line, the upper topographical limit where trees can still grow.

Aspect

Just as the boundaries of latitudinal belts are not parallel to, and thus not defined by, any lines of latitude, the boundaries of altitudinal zones are not marked by a contour line. They are influenced by topography, the prevailing winds and the aspect of a mountain's slope, as the angle of the Sun's rays is different at the north- and south-facing slopes of a mountain. Since the angles of the Sun's rays hit the south-facing slope at a greater angle, a larger amount of heat accumulates at a unit area. As a result, the rise in temperature is more significant on the south-facing slope.

Altitude

The temperature of the air drops by 1°C for every 100-metre rise in altitude. The colder the air, the less water vapour it can contain. As a result, when the air reaches the dew point, it reaches a temperature at which it becomes saturated with water vapour, which leads to cloud formation and precipitation, which occurs in the form of rain above 0 °C and snow in subzero temperatures. After reaching the dew point, the temperature of the rising air drops by only 0.5°C for every 100-metre rise in altitude because the heat released during precipitation reduces the rate of cooling in the air. After the air reaches the peak of the mountain, it descends on the opposite slope and its temperature increases by 1°C for every 100-metre decrease in altitude. No precipitation occurs on this side since the warming air can contain more water vapour; however, its actual water vapour content does not change. Therefore, air is drier and warmer on this side.

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