60-Second Science

Mountain versus Valley Temps Stretch Apart with Climate Change

Climate change could drive wide temperature differences between mountain ridges and valleys below in, for example, the Oregon Cascades. Christopher Intagliata reports

If you've ever driven up to a mountain pass, you know that the higher you climb, the colder it gets. But on clear, calm days, it can actually be colder in the valleys. That's because under high-pressure systems, cold air slides down mountain slopes and pools down below. In the Oregon Cascades, ridgeline temperatures have clocked in at 27 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than those in a valley 2,600 feet below.

So what happens when you take this variability and subject it to climate change? Well, a moderate estimate from the IPCC says western Oregon could warm 5 degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. But that's probably more accurate for the valleys—ridgetop temperatures could rise as much as 14 degrees Fahrenheit, according to research in the International Journal of Climatology. [Christopher Daly et al.,]

Oregon is projected to have more high-pressure days as the climate changes. That means more cold air pooling in the valleys and more extreme temperature differences, which could disrupt the local ecosystem.

We tend to think of climate change as a global or regional phenomenon. But, as this research suggests, you have to also think locally.

—Christopher Intagliata

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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