The Sierra Nevada is the highest mountain system on the Iberian Peninsula (Mulhacén 3482 m; Veleta 3308 m) and is located in the extreme SE region of Spain (lat 37°N, long 3°W). Bibliographic resources, particularly from the eighteenth to twentieth centuries, provide insights into the changing summit landscape as the effects of cold, ice, snow and wind shaped its morphology.
The selected references emphasize the Sierra's evolving climate reflected in the glaciers and snow hollows, and in the sparse vegetation above certain altitudes. Scientists had established bioclimatic conditions for the entire range in the early nineteenth century, and their works reflect the progression of ideas, particularly in the area of natural sciences, that influenced the period chosen for this study.
This information, in addition to current knowledge about the morphogenetic dynamics of the Sierra Nevada, provides the basis for a comparison of the dominant environments from the Little Ice Age to the present, using the most significant high mountain morphological features as a guide. The most relevant findings indicate that cold climate processes (soli-gelifluction, frost creep and nivation) were more predominant during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries than they are today.