Actualizado: 17 sept 2019

The mountain ecosystem has a different behavior in facing of climate change, due to the particular characteristics of these spaces that are deeply influenced by complex topography, altitude ranges, wide flora cover, rapid and intense changes in climatic features (storms, winds, snow, temperature, etc,). These features transform the mountain areas into a sensitive ecosystem that are investigated by researchers as areas for the detection of climatic change and the assessment of climate related impacts (Beniston, 2003). Significant orographic features occupy close to 25% of continental surfaces (Kapos et al., 2000) and, although only about 26% of the world’s population resides within mountainous areas or in the foothills of the mountains (Meybeck et al., 2001), 40% of world population depend indirectly of the mountainous areas resources for water supply, adapted agriculture, hydroelectric power and biodiversity (fauna and flora). The natural species that make their habitat in the mountains are endemic in the majority of cases, remaining isolated at high elevation and ca. of 25% of the forestall covers is formed by mountain forest. So, the mountain ecosystems are affected faster than other terrestrial areas by the climate change. A rising snow line and thawing permafrost could increase the risk of natural hazards, as well as accelerate warming trends due to lower reflectance degree are influencing: habitat species, natural hazards, economic potential and land use (Kohler et al., 2014).

In spite of the different features and climatic conditions of the mountain ecosystem around the world the impacts that the climate change are causing in these areas could be considered in four aspects: water, vegetation, public health and tourism.

-Water, snow and ice: the change in the precipitation and in the temperature affect negatively the hydrological cycle. This new cycle affect not only the river’s watershed in the mountains but also the valleys and the lowland regions that dependent of this resource for agriculture purpose, own consumption, hydroelectrically generated energy, etc.

-Vegetation, forest and biodiversity: in the mountains there are natural and cultivated species of vegetation that can be extremely affected by climatic factors (Beniston, 2003). For this ecosystem is very important to protect the vegetation cover (natural, semi-natural, forest, etc) principally for the preservation of a sustainable environment and the “health” of the mountain ecosystem, avoiding the erosion of the soils and the halt natural hazards (landslides, avalanches, etc.) and to protect the natural habitat of the mountain’s fauna.

-Public Health:if the water flow (and quality) changes then the harvests are negatively affected. If in some areas the conditions changes deeply then pastoralist ways have to be modified in negative manner (this is a bigger problem in developing countries). The change in climatic condition could bring on changes on the “mosquitos liveable range” with adverse consequences on public health system. Other “plague” could be brought-on by variations on the climatic conditions.

-Tourism: in the last years the tourism on mountain is increasing. The “Snow Tourism” constitutes a fundamental economic sector in some municipalities from the Spanish’s mountain (Lasanta, 2010). Today in the Pyrenees there are 16 Sky Stations. The tourism has negative (massive tourism in the mountain) and positive (increases of economy) impacts in these areas. So, the climate change may alter the seasonal patterns of tourism (Beniston, 2003) besides the negative effects brought on by the environmental pressure cause by the different form of invasive tourism (winter sport, trekking, etc.)

An example of the dramatic situation of this ecosystems it can be finded In Spain, in Mont-Perdu, the great Pyrénées's mountain.

Mont-Perdu is the highest calcareous massif in Europe, it is located in the South of the Central Pyrénées (province of Huesca) in the National Park of Ordesa and Mont-Perdu. This is formed by 3 high peak (Mont-Perdu, 3355 meters., Cilindro, 3328mts. and Añisclo, 3263 meters.) and 4 valleys (Ordesa, Añisclo, Escuain y Pineta). One part of this massif belongs to the Natural Park des Pyrénéss in France.

The Mont-Perdu’s glacier is one of the few glaciers that reaming actually “survives” in this mountain chain. Specifically it is the second more extended glacier behind Aneto-Madaleta (also in Pyrenées’ Chain). It is suffering a steady decline, now it has 750 meters. of longitude and it is between 2700-3250 meters. of altitude. Upon research we know that in 2011 there were only18 glaciers of the 34 that existed in 1982 (ERHIN Programme, 2008)[1]. Actually the Pyrénées mass glacier occupies nowadays only the 10% of the occupied area that it originally occupied in the beginning of the XX Century. These data are a sample of the serious situation of these glaciers and the connected mountain ecosystem in a wide sense.

Since the mid-twentieth century the environment has witnessed a progressive global warming with and important change in the patterns of temperature and precipitations. The average annual temperature has increased 0.25º/ decade; the cold station 0.24º/ decade and the warming station 0.26º/ decade, (Garcia-Ruiz et al, 2015). The precipitation’s levels are decreasing about 46 mm/ decade. In this period, numerous glaciers have disappeared, others have become snowfields and others are decreasing their size at an alarming rate. Nowadays, the monitoring of these changes is being followed by laser-scanner terrestrial techniques (Revuelto, et al. 2013) that are capable of giving very precise “readings”.

The glaciers of the North face of Mont-Perdu are decreasing in the following rate, from 239 ha. during LIA to 62,1 ha. in 1999 and 49.2 ha. in 2011. (Chueca & Julian, 2010). The consequences of this “natural disaster” in this type of glaciers are mainly:

-Loss of reflective surface on the Earth, which will increase the general warming in “all stations” due to a high solar radiation over the soils.

-Reduction and variability of the yearly quantity of water for agriculture, for human consumption, etc.

-Hydrological and geomorphologic dynamics of the slopes pass to the rivers,whose operation is closely related to the amount of water and sediment coming from the gradient. Changes in vegetation cover or characteristics of rainfall changes introduced in the generation of runoff, soil erosion and connectivity between slopes and channels. (Garcia-Ruiz et al., 2015).

-Natural hazards, principally avalanches and landslides.

One a positive note, given the morphological characteristics of the area, the adjacent hydrological basin are not affected in deep ways.

As conclusion: it has been (and still is) investigated how climate change is affecting, modifying, disrupting our environment, but at this stage, solution-wise we are in the “infancy” stage of this field of research, because there are not clear and set “chains of actions” to follow in order to counter balance the chairs of reaction that have ignited these negative effects.

One point is without discussion very clear: our civil society has to act rapidly in order to “catch-up” with the consequences of climate change that have an “heads-up” of minimum 100 years (the oil-age).


- Beniston, M (2003). “Climatic change in mountain regions:A review of possible impacts”Department of Geosciences, University of Fribourg, Pérolles, CH-1700 Fribourg, Switzerland.

-Meybeck, M., Green, P., and Vörösmarty, C.: 2001, ‘A New Typology for Mountains and other Relief Classes: An Application to Global Continental Water Resources and Population Distribution’, Mount. Res. Dev. 21, 34–45.

-García-Ruiz, J. M., López-Moreno, J. I., Lasanta, T., Vicente-Serrano, S. M., González-Sampériz, P., Valero-Garcés, B. L., Sanjuán, Y., Beguería, S., Nadal-Romero, E., Lana-Renault, N. y Gómez-Villar, A. (2015). Los efectos geoecológicos del cambio global en el Pirineo Central español: una revisión a distintas escalas espaciales y temporales. Pirineos, 170, e 012. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.3989/Pirineos.2015.170005

-Kohler, T., Wehrli, A., Jurek, M. eds. (2014) Mountains and climate change: a global concern. Sustainable Mountain Development Series. Centre for Development and Environment (CDE), Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and Geographica Bernensia, Bern, Switzerland, pp. 136

-Chueca J. and Julian A. (2010) “Dinámica de los glaciares del Pirineo Aragonés. Resultados de la campaña glaciológica de año 2011. Boletin Gaciologico Aragonés. 11. 9-183.

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