Disappearing “alpine tundra” Köppen climatic type in the western United States



[1] We examine changes in the areal extent of the Köppen “alpine tundra” climate classification type for the mountainous western United States following the work of Kottek et al. (2006). We find a significant decline in the area occupied by this climate category. In the early decades of the 20th century, the mean temperature of the warmest month in the areas of the western U.S. with nominal alpine tundra climates ranged largely between ∼8.5°C and 9.5°C. In the last 20 years (1987–2006), rising temperatures have caused a significant fraction of these areas to exceed the 10°C threshold for alpine tundra classification. The result has been a 73% reduction in coverage of this climatic type. The remaining classified alpine tundra in the last 20 years now averages between ∼9°C–10°C during the warmest month, so that continued warming past the classification threshold, would imply that areas where this climate type is found today in the West will no longer be present.