Experts from Newcastle University’s Centre for Earth Systems Enginering Resarch fear for water supplies and wildlife. Mountains may be hotting up faster than previously thought with potentially dramatic consequences, fear North scientists. An international team of experts, including researchers from Newcastle University, is now calling for urgent and rigorous monitoring of temperature patterns in mountain regions. This could lead to threats ranging from water shortages and the possible extinction of some alpine plants and animal life. Co-authors of the research, Prof Hayley Fowler and Dr Nathan Forsythe, from Newcastle University’s School of Civil Engineering and Geosciences, have been working on climate change in the Himalayas for over a decade. Prof Fowler said: “Changes to climate, glaciers and snow cover in the high mountains of Asia are of vital importance for water supplies to a fifth of the world’s population, so understanding past changes are key to understanding what might happen in the future.” Lead author, Dr Nick Pepin of the University of Portsmouth, said: “Most current predictions are based on incomplete and imperfect data, but 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 much more dramatic changes much sooner than previously thought.” The most striking evidence that mountain regions are warming more rapidly than surrounding regions comes from the Tibetan plateau. Here temperatures have risen steadily over the past 50 years and the rate of change is speeding up. But masked by this general climate warming are pronounced differences at different elevations. For example, over the past 20 years temperatures above 4,000 metres have warmed nearly 75% faster than temperatures in areas below 2,000 metres. The team of scientists came together as part of the Mountain Research Initiative, a mountain global change research effort funded by the Swiss National Foundation. Between them, they have studied data on mountain temperatures worldwide collected over the past 60-70 years. Dr Pepin said: “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.” Among the reasons the researchers examined for faster rates of temperature increase in mountain regions are: •Loss of snow and ice, leading to more exposed land surface at high elevation warming up faster in the sun; •Increasing release of heat in the high atmosphere. A warmer atmosphere holds more moisture, which, when condensing as clouds at high elevation, releases more heat to the mountain environment; •Aerosol pollutants at low elevations, including haze, dust and smoke, reduces warming at those elevations, thus increasing the difference in rates of warming between low and high elevations; •Dust and soot deposited on the surface at high elevations causes more incoming sunlight to be converted to heat. •The world’s highest mountain, Mt Everest, stands at 8,848 m. More than 250 other mountains, including Mt Elbrus in Russia, Mt Denali in Alaska, Mt Aconcagua in Argentina and Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa, also all top the 5,000m mark. Ben Nevis, in Scotland, is the UK’s highest mountain, standing at 1,344 m.
Full paper: Pepin, N., Bradley, N.S., Diaz, H.F., Baraer, M., Caceres, E.B., Forsythe, N., Fowler, H.J., Greenwood, G., Hashmi, M.Z., Liu, X.D., Miller, J., Ning, L., Ohmura, A., Palazzi, E., Rangwala, I., Schoener, W., Severskiy, I., Shahgedanova, M., Wang, M.B., Williamson S.N., and Yang, D.Q. 2015. Elevation-Dependent Warming in Mountain Regions of the World. Nature Climate Change 5, 424–430 doi:10.1038/nclimate2563