Pinnacles heat up faster

Climate change is also stronger in high altitudes, but has not been sufficiently researched so far

Glacier on the Kibo, the highest peak of the Kilimanjaro massif in Africa © Douglas Hardy, UMass Amherst
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Sweaty peaks: Not only the poles, but also the mountain regions are particularly affected by climate change. The cold altitudes are warming up faster and faster, as a researcher has now confirmed. This threatens not only local animals and plants, but could also have far-reaching consequences for humans. In order to estimate the extent of this warming in the mountains reliably, more information is urgently needed, the researchers write in the journal "Nature Climate Change".

Climate change is particularly noticeable in the cold regions of the earth: in the Arctic and the Antarctic, for example, the sea ice is melting faster and faster. But the poles are not the only cold spots on our planet. Anyone who has ever climbed or climbed a mountain knows that even with increasing altitude, the temperature drops. However, how climate change affects the mountainous regions of the earth has hardly been studied so far.

No data above 5, 000 meters

Among other things, this is due to the prevailing data shortage, say scientists around Nick Pepin of the British University of Portsmouth: There are hardly any weather stations worldwide that are higher than 4, 500 meters above sea level. From above 5, 000 meters, there is virtually no long-term data on the climate. Just one station on Kilimanjaro, just under 5, 900 meters high, has been gathering information for just over ten years.

For their study, Pepin and colleagues have thoroughly analyzed the scarce data available worldwide. They investigated mechanisms such as the melting of ice and snow and the heat loss with increasing altitude, but also the effects of different levels of air pollution at depth and altitude. There were also differences between different regions and seasons.

View of the highlands of Tibet. NASA

Temperature increase for 50 years

The clear result: "The evidence is that high mountain regions heat up faster than lower elevations, " says Pepin. The biggest changes were found in the Tibetan highlands, often referred to as the "third pole". There temperatures have been rising steadily for 50 years, faster and faster in recent years. display

Glacial meltdown and changing vegetation could accelerate further environmental changes, Pepin warns. "If we are right and the mountains warm up faster than other regions of the environment, serious social and economic consequences could result." Because most of the affected mountainous areas come from the affected areas, from which humans live in live in lower-lying areas. "This alone requires a lot of attention for this topic, " say the scientists.

Consequences: drought and species extinction

In addition, the remote mountain peaks are also a retreat area of ​​many rare and endangered animals and plants. If the mountain climate changes too fast and drastically, these species could become extinct. However, to confirm these effects and predict them better, more extensive data is needed. In particular, the variety of factors involved make a reliable evaluation difficult without further information, the researchers write.

New weather stations for extended observations as well as satellite data and computer models could provide this information about climate change in the mountains. "We call for special measures to extend scientific observations to the highest peaks to capture what is happening to the mountains of the world, " says co-author Raymond Bradley of the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. "This requires international cooperation." (Nature Climate Change, 2015; doi: 10.1038 / nclimate2563)

(University of Massachusetts at Amherst, 23.04.2015 - AKR)