Journal of Geographical Sciences ›› 2012, Vol. 22 ›› Issue (4): 609-616.doi: 10.1007/s11442-012-0950-1

• Climate Change • Previous Articles     Next Articles

Mass elevation effect and its forcing on timberline altitude

HAN Fang1, YAO Yonghui2, DAI Shibao1, WANG Chun1, SUN Ranhao3, XU Juan4, ZHANG Baiping2   

  1. 1. Geographic Information and Tourism College, Chuzhou University, Chuzhou 239000, Anhui, China;
    2. State Key Laboratory of Resource and Environment Information System, Institute of Geographic Sciences and Natural Resources Research, CAS, Beijing 100101, China;
    3. State Key Laboratory of Urban and Regional Ecology, Research Center for Eco-Environmental Science, CAS, Beijing 100085, China;
    4. Institute of Environment and Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), Beijing 100081, China
  • Received:2011-11-10 Revised:2011-12-09 Online:2012-08-15 Published:2012-07-10
  • Supported by:

    National Natural Science Foundation of China, No.41030528; No.40971064; Innovation Project of State Key Laboratory of Resources and Environmental Information System (LREIS)


The concept of mass elevation effect (massenerhebungseffect, MEE) was introduced by A. de Quervain about 100 years ago to account for the observed tendency for temperature-related parameters such as tree line and snowline to occur at higher elevations in the central Alps than on their outer margins. It also has been widely observed in other areas of the world, but there have not been significant, let alone quantitative, researches on this phenomenon. Especially, it has been usually completely neglected in developing fitting models of timberline elevation, with only longitude or latitude considered as impacting factors. This paper tries to quantify the contribution of MEE to timberline elevation. Considering that the more extensive the land mass and especially the higher the mountain base in the interior of land mass, the greater the mass elevation effect, this paper takes mountain base elevation (MBE) as the magnitude of MEE. We collect 157 data points of timberline elevation, and use their latitude, longitude and MBE as independent variables to build a multiple linear regression equation for timberline elevation in the southeastern Eurasian continent. The results turn out that the contribution of latitude, longitude and MBE to timberline altitude reach 25.11%, 29.43%, and 45.46%, respectively. North of northern latitude 32°, the three factors’ contribution amount to 48.50%, 24.04%, and 27.46%, respectively; to the south, their contribution is 13.01%, 48.33%, and 38.66%, respectively. This means that MBE, serving as a proxy indicator of MEE, is a significant factor determining the elevation of alpine timberline. Compared with other factors, it is more stable and independent in affecting timberline elevation. Of course, the magnitude of the actual MEE is certainly determined by other factors, including mountain area and height, the distance to the edge of a land mass, the structures of the mountains nearby. These factors need to be included in the study of MEE quantification in the future. This paper could help build up a high-accuracy and multi-scale elevation model for alpine timberline and even other altitudinal belts.

Key words: mass elevation effect, mountain base elevation, altitudinal belts, quantification, Eurasia