Covering one-fifth of the earth's surface, mountain zones are diverse regions encompassing many different biomes. Mountains are found on every continent. They can stand alone or as a group called chains or ranges. While all mountain zones are different, there are various facts that can be applied to all mountain zones, regarding climate, elevation, weather and the plants and animals that call the mountain zone home.
Mountain zones are very important to the global population, as 80 percent of the planet's freshwater sources begin in the mountains. Across the world, more than 2 billion people depend on mountain zones for food, timber, minerals and hydroelectricity.
While mountain zones are considered a major biome in and of themselves, they also encompass many diverse biomes. In the mountain zone you will find desert, grasslands, deciduous forests, steppe, taiga and alpine biomes.
Climate in the mountain zone can also be very diverse. The mountain's foothills can be tropical, while the peak of the mountain is covered in snow and ice. The higher you travel in elevation, the colder the climate will become. Higher elevations also see more moisture that produces rain, snow and ice.
The weather in the mountain zone can be extremely fickle, changing quickly from one moment to the next. The temperature can quickly drop, and storms can roll in on a completely clear sky. Because the temperature at the top of mountain zone is lower than the temperature at sea level, the mountain zone receives more rain and snowfall.
Climate Surrounding the Mountain Zone
The climate on mountain zone also affects the low-lying areas at the foot of the mountain. In many cases, the mountain zone creates something called a rain shadow, in which the mountain blocks rainfall on one side of the mountain. This can create mountains with lush green on one side, and arid deserts on the other.
Oxygen and Elevation
As you climb to higher elevations in the mountain zone, the oxygen in the atmosphere begins to thin. At the summit of Mount Everest, which sits at 29,035 feet, the oxygen in the atmosphere is only one-third of the oxygen found at sea level.
At the highest elevations, animals have adapted to rugged terrain, low oxygen levels, little UV filtration and extreme cold. Animals respond to these conditions by hibernating or moving to lower elevations. Other adaptations include additional layers of fat for insulation, shorter ears and tails to prevent heat loss, in addition to larger lungs, more blood cells and hemoglobin to adjust to the lack of oxygen.
Plants and Elevation
The lower elevations of the mountain zone are typically covered by trees and deciduous forest. However, the highest elevations are treeless and have few plants because of a decreased amount of carbon dioxide, which is essential for plant growth.
Soil and Elevation
At the highest elevations, plants in the mountain zone do not decompose quickly when they die. This is due to the extreme cold temperatures. For this reason, the soil quality at higher elevations is very poor.
Because of the rapid changes in elevation, the mountain zone is home to some of the highest amounts of biodiversity. California's Sierra Nevada mountain range, which encompasses Yosemite National Park, contains between 10,000 and 15,000 different species of plants and animals. (See Reference 2)
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