The MRI has been working on issues surrounding elevation dependent warming since 2012, assessing if, where, to what extent, and why mountains and other high elevation regions of the world are warming more rapidly than lowlands.


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Working Group Key Output

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.

Mountain Research Initiative EDW Working Group
N. Pepin, R. S. Bradley, H. F. Diaz, M. Baraer, E. B. Caceres, N. Forsythe, H. Fowler, G. Greenwood, M. Z. Hashmi, X. D. Liu, J. R. Miller, L. Ning, A. Ohmura, E. Palazzi, I. Rangwala, W. Schöner, I. Severskiy, M. Shahgedanova, M. B. Wang, S. N. Williamson & D. Q. Yang.

'Elevation-dependent warming in mountain regions of the world' in Nature Climate Change 5, 424–430 (2015).


Working Group Background

During the last century, global surface air temperature increased by 0.75°C according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report (AR4). Between 1975 and 2010, land temperatures increased at a rate of 0.30°C/decade – more than double the rate (0.12°C/decade) of ocean warming. It has been proposed that mountainous regions may be more sensitive to global scale climate change than other land surfaces at the same latitude (e.g., Messerli and Ives 1997; Beniston et al. 1997). Several studies have suggested that mountain regions have warmed at a greater rate than their low elevation counterparts, often with greater increases in daily minimum temperatures than daily maximum temperatures (e.g. Diaz and Bradley 1997; Beniston et al. 1997; Rangwala et al. 2009; Liu et al. 2009; Qin et al. 2009; Pederson et al. 2010). Most climate models find enhanced warming in mountains and do so more consistently than found in observations (Pepin and Lundquist 2008). A conclusive understanding of these responses will continue to elude us in the absence of a more comprehensive network of climate monitoring in mountains.

This working group aims to both review existing science and collect new data, as the current paucity of high-elevation station data precludes definitive answers.


Working Group Activities

The activities of this working group were set out as follows:
  • Assess the significance of mountain elevation dependent warming.
  • Specify the mechanisms that underlie elevation dependent warming.
  • Review the evidence for elevation dependent warming.
  • Assess projections of future elevation dependent warming, and its implications for water, ecosystems, and society.
  • Develop satellite-based monitoring of temperatures in mountain regions.
  • Examine high-resolution regional and global modeling.
  • Design targeted observational campaigns.

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