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Climatic snow lines[1]
Cho Oyu (8,201 m), Himalayas: 6,000 m
Cotopaxi (5,897 m), Andes: 5,000 m
Weisshorn (4,506 m), Alps: 3,000 m

The climatic snow line is the point above which snow and ice cover the ground throughout the year. The actual snow line may adjust seasonally, and be either significantly higher in elevation, or lower.



The interplay of altitude and latitude affects the precise placement of the snow line at a particular location. At or near the equator, it is typically situated at approximately 4,500 meters (or about 15,000 feet) above sea level. As one moves towards the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn, the parameter at first increases: in the Himalayas the permanent snow line can be as high as 5,700 metres (18,700 feet), whilst on the Tropic of Capricorn no permanent snow exists at all in the Andes because of the extreme aridity. Beyond the Tropics the snow line becomes progressively lower as the latitude increases, to just below 3,000 metres in the Alps and falling all the way to sea level itself at the ice caps near the poles.

In addition, the relative location to the nearest coastline can influence the altitude of the snow line. Areas near a coast might have a lower snow line than areas of the same altitude and latitude situated in a landmass interior due to more winter snowfall and because the average summer temperature of the surrounding lowlands would be warmer away from the sea. (This applies even in the tropics, since areas far from the sea will have larger diurnal temperature ranges and potentially less moisture, as observed with Kilimanjaro and presently glacier-free Mount Meru). A higher altitude is therefore necessary to lower the temperature further against the surroundings and keep the snow from melting.

Furthermore, large-scale oceanic currents such as the North Atlantic Current can have significant affects over large areas (in this case warming northern Europe, extending even to some Arctic Ocean regions).


The highest mountain in the world below the snow line is Ojos del Salado.[2]

Approximate levelsEdit

Svalbard 78°N 0300–600 m
Greenland 70°N 0100–500 m
Scandinavia at the polar circle 67°N 1000–1500 m
Iceland 65°N 0700–1100 m
Eastern Siberia 63°N 2300–2800 m
southern Scandinavia 62°N 1200–2200 m
Alaska Panhandle 58°N 1000–1500 m
Kamchatka (coastal) 55°N 700–1500 m
Kamchatka (interior) 55°N 2000–2800 m
Alps (northern slopes) 48°N 2500–2800 m
Central Alps 47°N 2900–3200 m
Alps (southern slopes) 46°N 2700–2800 m
Caucasus Mountains 43°N 2700–3800 m
Pyrenees 43°N 2600–2900 m
Gran Sasso d'Italia 42°N 2600–2800 m
Pontic Mountains 41°N 3800–4300 m
Rocky Mountains 40°N 2100-3350 m
Karakoram 36°N 5400–5800 m
Transhimalaya 32°N 6300–6500 m
Himalaya 28°N 6000 m
Pico de Orizaba 19°N 5100–5500 m
Pico Cristóbal Colón 11°N 5000–5500 m
Rwenzori Mountains 1°N 4700–4800 m
Mount Kenya 4600–4700 m
Andes in Ecuador 1°S 4800–5000 m
New Guinea Highlands 2°S 4600–4700 m
Kilimanjaro 3°S 5500–5600 m
Andes in Bolivia 18°S 6000–6500 m
Andes in Chile 30°S 5800–6500 m
Mount Ruapehu, New Zealand 37°S 2500–2700 m
Southern Alps, New Zealand 43°S 1600–2700 m
Tierra del Fuego 54°S 0800–1300 m
Antarctica 70°S 0000–400 m

Compare the usage of "snow line" indicating the boundary between snow and non-snow.[3]

See alsoEdit


  • Charlesworth J.K. (1957). The quaternary era. With special reference to its glaciation, vol. I. London, Edward Arnold (publishers) Ltd, 700 pp.
  • Flint, R. F. (1957). Glacial and Pleistocene geology. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, xiii+553+555 pp.
  • Kalesnik, S.V. (1939). Obshchaya glyatsiologiya [General glaciology]. Uchpedgiz, Leningrad, 328 pp. (in Russian)
  • Tronov, M.V. (1956). Voprosy svyazi mezhdu klimatom i oledeneniem [The problems of the connection between climate and glaciation]. Izdatel'stvo Tomskogo Universiteta, Tomsk, 202 pp. (in Russian)
  • Wilhelm, F. (1975). Schnee- und Gletscherkunde [Snow- and glaciers study], De Gruyter, Berlin, 414 pp. (in German)


  1. ^ Approximations. Snow line elevations retrieved from Google Earth on 2014-08-20
  2. ^ Regional Climate and Snow/Glacier Distribution in Southern Upper Atacama (Ojos del Salado) - an integrated statistical, GIS and RS based approach
  3. ^ Adam, Steve; Alain Pietroniro; Melinda M. Brugman (1997). "Glacier Snow Line Mapping Using ERS-1 SAR Imagery" (PDF). Remote Sensing of Environment. New York: Elsevier Science Inc. 61 (1): 46–54. doi:10.1016/S0034-4257(96)00239-8. Retrieved 2010-09-28. The snow line at the end of the ablation season is roughly equal to the equilibrium line altitude (ELA) for temperate glaciers