The elevation is the height of a place relative to sea level, but what is the relationship between Elevation and climate?
In this article, you’ll learn the relationship between Elevation and climate and what causes the difference in climatic conditions in places both high and low elevation areas.
Climate is the average weather conditions of a region over long periods. As elevation increases, it is colder and windier. The amount and intensity of precipitation (rain or snow) also increase with higher Elevation. There is also less air with increasing Elevation, which means lower oxygen levels for living organisms.
Altitude vs Elevation
Altitude and Elevation are distinct ideas. Altitude refers to an object’s position relative to sea level.
For example, a plane flying at 30,000 feet is said to be at an altitude of 30,000 feet.
On the other hand, Elevation refers to how high above the ground an object is positioned.
For example, homes and businesses on the flatlands along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts are located at a higher elevation than those along the Florida coastline.
This is because they are farther from the Gulf of Mexico.
Climate vs Weather
While there are many similarities between weather and climate, there are also some significant differences to consider.
Weather refers to the atmospheric conditions around a given area for a specific period; weather patterns are affected by local averages of atmospheric phenomena occurring within a thirty-year period.
On the other hand, climate reflects broader trends in the weather of an entire region.
Global weather conditions (such as volcanic eruptions and changes in ocean currents) affect the climate more than local weather patterns do.
Elevation and Climate in Perspective
Assuming you were to travel from the coast toward the interior and then back toward the ocean again, you would notice increased atmospheric conditions.
The reverse is also true:
If you were to travel from the interior to a coastal area and then inland again, atmospheric conditions would undergo a noticeable change.
The air above the land and sea is full of moisture, and when the sun is shining, that moisture gets warmed. When air warms, it expands and becomes less dense.
As a result, warm air rises, as hot air balloons do.
The rising air displaces the air above it—which sinks to take its place—and these rising and falling currents are called convection cells.
The difference in atmospheric conditions between coastal and inland elevated areas is primarily due to differences in temperature at those locations.
Because more things are heating a city than just the sun, the effects of convection cells are not as pronounced inside towns as they are near coasts or in open spaces.
How Elevation Affects Climate
To understand what is the relationship between Elevation and climate, we first have to consider the following factors:
- The effects due to an increase in Elevation from sea level to the location several thousand feet above sea level and
- The vital climatic variables are associated with these areas.
Here are some of the climatic variables that are affected by Elevation:
The Earth’s surface absorbs the infrared radiation emitted by the sun and its atmosphere, warming both.
In turn, the Earth’s land and oceans heat the air near their surfaces, so warm air rises.
As it rises, the air reaches its maximum temperature at the height of about 5 miles above the surface of the Earth before cooling down as elevation increases.
Fact: The atmospheric layer where air reaches its maximum temperature is called an “adiabat“.
Relationship between Elevation and temperature
The climate at an elevation of a few thousand feet above sea level is different from a similar environment at sea level because two factors must be considered.
An increase in Elevation causes the air to decrease in temperature.
However, two critical climatic variables are associated with these areas:
- First, the air density at higher elevations is lower, causing the wind to blow more quickly and causing less evaporation to occur.
- Second, clouds tend to be lower toward the surface of landmasses, therefore precipitation may be less likely.
Rate of Temperature Change with Change in Elevation
Locations high up on mountains and plateau areas experience colder temperatures than those found at sea level.
For example, a town could have a temperature of 22° Celsius (71.6° Fahrenheit) at sea level when it is raining heavily.
When the same village gets situated on a plateau at an elevation of 2 000 meters (6 661 feet) above sea level, it could be as cold as 3.4° Celsius (38.1° Fahrenheit).
The difference in temperature from one location to another is influenced by local conditions.
But for most areas, the temperature typically drops 1° Celsius per 100 meters or 5.4° Fahrenheit per 1000 feet, respectively.
Likewise, temperatures fall 9.8° Celsius per 1000 meters or 9.8° Fahrenheit per 1000 feet for every 1000 meters or 1000 feet in altitude.
Fact: Because Elevation and latitude are both affected by the same factors—such as the position of the sun, the proximity to water, and the slope of the land—both affect temperature.
As elevation increases, air temperature decreases; as latitude increases, temperature decreases as well.
The air we breathe is indeed quite heavy. The atmosphere is made up of different gases like oxygen and carbon dioxide, and also tiny particles of other substances.
It’s interesting to note that the higher you move away from the Earth’s surface, the lighter the air gets. The reason for this is due to a process called compression.
The greatest amount of pressure on air occurs at the Earth’s surface and becomes progressively less as you climb in Elevation.
The climate depends largely on the amount of atmospheric pressure in your region. Also, pressure levels change depending on where you are in relation to sea level.
Thus, you can see what a big advantage this information can be when experts are trying to predict climatic changes at different elevations.
If you live in high elevation areas such as mountainous areas, whether you are at the top of a peak or on the slope below it, you will probably have to deal with more rain and snow than if you lived nearer sea level.
The reason for this is that condensation occurs with increased frequency as elevation increases.
Condensation forms when there is not enough moisture in the air to form clouds.
However, when the air becomes saturated, clouds formation and precipitation begins.
If the temperature is warm enough, those clouds will produce rain rather than snow.
Precipitation and Temperature
When the air becomes saturated with enough moisture, precipitation takes place.
Temperature is one of the factors that affect how much moisture is present in the air.
Thus, the type of precipitation you get at a location depends on both the temperature and how much moisture there is already when condensation occurs.
Note: When other factors outside of natural atmospheric processes force air to change altitude, the phenomenon known as the mountain effect can occur.
One such situation is the forced Elevation of air due to the physical barrier formed by a mountain range.
Climatic Conditions in low elevation areas are typically characterized by:
- Little wind activity
- High air pressure
- Less precipitation
- Warm temperatures
Climatic conditions in high elevation areas are typically characterized by:
- Gustier and stronger winds
- Low air pressure
- More precipitation
- Colder temperatures
Read Next: How Do Large Bodies of Water Affect Climate?
Because Elevation varies from place to place, temperature and other climatic variables also change.
Note that temperature is not the only factor that affects climate but only one of the more prominent influences.
Elevation causes regions to have very different climates from those at a high elevation.
This clearly explains what is the relationship between Elevation and climate.
In future, if you experience the climatic conditions listed in the article you’ll now be able to understand why and relate the conditions to your specific Elevation.
You can also begin to investigate where else these conditions apply.