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Weather Conditions and Life On Mountains

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The Mountains; Formation of Mountains; Types of Mountains; Location of Mountains; Growing Mountains; The Mountain Range and System; Highest and Tallest Mountain; Over 8000 Meters Tall; The Highest Mountains On Each Continent; Erosion Over Mountains; Mountaineering; Weather Conditions and Life On Mountains; Role Of Mountains In Social Life

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Mountains provide some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and offer homes for many types of living creatures. Mountains are home to approximately one-tenth of the world’s people. More than half of the world’s fresh water originates in mountains, and all the world's major rivers are fed from mountain sources.

Permanent snow may cover a mountaintop. Temperatures at the peak can be so cold that few animals or plants can survive. On the lower slopes, where it is warmer, many different kinds of wildlife make their homes.

Mountains change over time. New mountains are being created, and old mountains are being worn away wind and water. The highest peak on the planet is Mount Everest (above), which rises 29035 feet (8850 metres) above sea level. Part of the Himalayas, Mount Everest is located in southern Asia. Long ago, the Himalayas were covered by water. Scientists have found fossils of sea creatures in the rocks of the Himalayas.

Weather conditions change around the sides of a mountain. The side facing into the wind usually gets the most rain. The conditions at the bottom of a tall mountain in a tropical area are different than the conditions at the top. In the tropics, the temperature drops 1.4° Fahrenheit (0.7° Celsius) for every 500 feet (152 m) higher. Temperature affects the kinds of animals and plants that can survive. At the bottom of a mountain is an area of flat land, called the plains. Conditions on the plains match the surrounding area, with the same animals and plants as in any other rain forest, desert, or dry grassland.

A mountain side starts with an area called the foothills. The foothills are slightly cooler than the plains. Trees and flowers grow on the slopes of mountains. In Europe and in much of North America, the trees on the slopes are deciduous, which mean they lose their leaves in winter. Evergreens, trees that keep their leaves all year, grow in the foothills in tropical regions. They form a rain forest.

In Africa, mountain gorillas (left) live among the trees of the foothills. The gorillas live in the tree branches and eat fruit and leaves. Mountain gorillas live in small family groups. A group includes females and their babies led by one large, strong male.

Higher up, foothills turn into the middle slopes. Conifer trees, such as pines, spruces and firs, which do not shed their leaves, thrive at this level.

Porcupines (below) live in middle-slope forests, feeding on twigs and bark in the winter and plants in the summer. Porcupines have coats of barbed quills. The quills help protect them from other animals.

In tropical areas, middle slopes may have bamboo forests, home to red pandas. Bamboo forests in south-western China are home to giant pandas (above). Their favourite food is bamboo. People are ruining the bamboo forests. Fewer than one thousand giant pandas live in the world.

Even higher up the mountain is the tree line. Above the tree line, the weather is too cold for trees to grow. Near the tree line, trees struggle to grow. Most look more like bushes than trees.

Mountain sheep and goats graze on the steep upper slopes. These animals have thick fur coats to protect them from the cold mountain air. Mountain goats are agile. They have hooves like pincers, so they can keep their grip on rocky slopes. They must be alert for big mountain cats, which hunt at night.

North American mountain lions, also known as pumas or cougars, make their homes on rocks high up on the mountain side. Pumas hunt deer and rabbits. Snow leopards live and hunt on the mountains of the Himalayas. They spend summers high on the mountains but live lower in cold weather. Snow leopards have thick pads of fur underneath their feet, so they can walk on the slippery ice and snow. Today, only a few hundred snow leopards are left in the world.

The world’s only mountain parrot, the kea, makes its nest under rocks. Unlike other parrots, which eat fruit, the kea eats insects and meat. It sometimes attacks sheep with its sharp beak.

High up the slope of a mountain is the snow line. Above the snow line, the temperature stays below the freezing point, which is the temperature at which all water stays frozen as ice and snow. The snow line is higher in the warm summer months than it is in the cold winter. Between the tree line and the snow line, plants usually are small, have dark leaves, and grow close to the ground.

At the summit of a mountain, the dry, cold, windy weather, the ice and snow cover, and the thin, rocky soil make it hard for any kind of plant or animal to survive. Birds have an advantage on mountains. They can soar up higher or swoop down lower to find food.

The highest spot in the world is home to Alpine chough, a bird related to crows. These birds live among high tops of the Himalayas. Lammergeiers (Gypaetus barbatus) are huge birds from parts of Europe, Africa and Asia. To feed, they pick-up bones of dead animals, fly up high, drop the bones to the ground to smash them and then eat the marrow.

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