Freezing Level

OK, I had a friend in Ecuador call and tell me all the locals were talking about how the freezing and snow levels were further down the mountains than anyone could remember. I’ve just spent a few hours trying to find decent maps / information on snow and freezing levels in Ecuador. It’s not easy (probably in part as I’m mostly getting English language hits and don’t know how to get Spanish sites in Google.) But Ive found some.

First up, this map of freezing elevations. Notice that it shows the “freeze line in early January to be about 4500 m to 5000 m depending on where in South America you are looking:

South America Freezing Levels in Meters

South America Freezing Levels in Meters

Original Image from this site

OK, all well and good, but what does that mean? Is that really colder, or hotter?

Conveniently, these folks have been studying just that:

Recent changes in freezing level heights in the Tropics with
implications for the deglacierization of high mountain regions
Raymond S. Bradley,1 Frank T. Keimig,1 Henry F. Diaz,2 and Douglas R. Hardy1
Received 10 February 2009; revised 9 July 2009; accepted 4 August 2009; published 4 September 2009

What they found was that freezing levels were rising from 1958 to 1990. On page two they have a nice graph (in B&W) that shows the January Freeze Levels as being 5000 to 6000 m. I’ve not figured out how to embed their graph and don’t want to put the time into it, so you get to ‘click the link’. The caption implies that the data are available somewhere at NCEP.

Figure 1. Mean free air freezing level heights (GPH in
meters) in (top) January and (bottom) July, based on NCEP
reanalysis data for 1977–2007.

They then make two charts for the top and bottom of the ice cap.

Figure 4. Daily maximum ventilated air temperatures
(hourly averages) for (top) Quelccaya Ice Cap summit
(5680 m) and (bottom) Quelccaya ice cap margin (5200 m).
The latter was extrapolated using an observed free air lapse
rate for the region of 5.4C km1 (based on NCEP
reanalysis data).

The top is regularly just below freezing with excursions to 2 C in January.
The bottom is regularly above freezing with excursions to -2 C in about August.

So this says that 5200 M is expected to be about 4 C in January, and pretty reliably.

But we have that map up top saying that Ecuador is pretty much frozen between 4500 and 5000 Meters. In January.

So, that paper has pretty much shown, IMHO, that you can use the freeze level as a proxy for what is happening (at least during the last 30 year 1/2 PDO cycle) and that the present Freeze Level says that whatever it was they had measured as “warming” has now all gone away, and then some. They found about a 1/2 C “rise over time” and we’ve now got a several degree “gone all at once”.

The major flaw I see in this comparison is that I’ve got a very short term weather map, not a monthly average. It would be better to find monthly average freeze levels (preferable global and for over 30 years, but hey, I know that’s most likely just dreaming) and then see what’s happened to the freeze level since 1998. A giant steam shovel sized “Dig Here!” in my opinion.

What’s pretty clear to me out of all this, though, is that ‘eyes on the ground’ seeing low snow levels and ‘ears on the ground’ hearing locals say even the old guys don’t remember snow that low; those directly translate into freeze level data and provide a very good analysis that says “Things have changed. For the colder. Fast and hard.” And it has happened even at the equator.

Further, I’d speculate that a ‘thinner atmospheric depth’ as we’ve gotten out of this UV drop could well account for the freeze level being lower. Lowered freeze levels globally has just got to have an impact on the ‘warming’ vs ‘cooling’ profile of the planet. I suspect this is a key part of how the solar changes drive climate changes.

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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9 Responses to Freezing Level

  1. Viv Evans says:

    Very interesting, especially as it is now the height of summer in the SH, with Ecuador being located, ahem, on the Equator.

    IIRC, this was the area to which the antarctic low some months ago had pushed up. One wonders if that also influenced the extent of the freeze line.

    Finally – I am all for ‘eyes and ears on the ground’. There are many indicators, all over the world, which people have been aware of for a long time, especially in rural areas. These may include the amount of berries on shrubs and trees available for birds in autumn, and how quickly they’re gone. These may include the arrival and leaving times of migratory birds.
    Yes, those indicators are local, and yes, they’re not hi-tech, but more and more I think they should get a place in long-range local forecasts.
    After all, we don’t live on a billiard ball, do we?

    Happy New Year, Chiefio!

  2. Jeff Alberts says:

    Here in Western Washington we’re running 10+ degrees below average, and have been most of 2010. I moved out here from Northern VA because of the more temperate climate. Silly me.

  3. You must know that here in SA it usually snows on the Cordilleras during SH summer and, indeed, glaciers are returning to normal after the 1997-98 El Niño. However the local Met Office is biased as any other in the world. Just yesterday night I saw on the local TV the troubles are having the Alpaca breeders at Puno, Peru, showing alpaca fetuses as these animals deliver its calves before due time because of the extreme cold. In the same program it was shown how kids were suffering of lung related diseases because of the same cold. Puno it is a plateau located at altitudes from 3800 to 5000 mt. high in the southern andes, and the usual cold epoch it is, of course, during SH winter time, in june, july and august.

  4. Jay says:

    For Spanish web pages go to google and at the right of the search box, there is a link for language tools.

    Click there, put in your search terms, and then go to the right and select your language.

    “. I’ve just spent a few hours trying to find decent maps / information on snow and freezing levels in Ecuador. It’s not easy (probably in part as I’m mostly getting English language hits and don’t know how to get Spanish sites in Google.) But Ive found some. “

  5. E.M.Smith says:

    @Jay: Thanks, I’ll give that a try.

    @Adolfo: For Ecuador I try to remember to talk about ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ seasons as it doesn’t really have the usual cycle. But yes, this is the ‘wet’ season, so you get snow at altitude.

    What’s different is the altitude is now lower…

    @Jeff Alberts: Might be interesting to find out if there are local ‘freeze line’ data for the PNW… ought to be.

    Condolences on not choosing Hawaii ;-)

    @Viv Evans: Instruments are nice and all, but I really like to see independent physical confirmation of the pretty numbers… It think it’s a sid effect of learning to use a slide rule at a very early age. You always had a side check on things to make sure you hadn’t lost a decimal point or two…

    In looking at that freeze level chart up top, the big thing that soaks in to me is just how wide spread the shift of freeze level is. It’s everywhere.

    If that generalizes globally, then we ought to be seeing the same thing at places like Hawaii and Vancouver, The Swiss Alps and South Island New Zealand….

    It’s a big turf full of “dig here” places…

  6. @..and if you revise the Climate-Gate emails, they had contacts in every country, so now everyone preaches the same “gospel”, and it is very difficult to get actual data.

  7. Patagon says:

    Figure 2 is interesting, especially the right side. It shows no trend in warming in the mid tropical troposphere, that means absence of the hot spot predicted by the AGW hypothesis. That corroborates Paltridge paper on the subject:

    Click to access paltridgearkingpook.pdf

    You can find the freezing level on Chimborazo in Ecuador here:

    And for the Tropical Andes here:

    A quick way to visualize reanalisys data is through the climate explorer:

    or directly from the NCEP pages if you can read netcdf files


  8. George says:

    300,000 acres of crops destroyed in what is generally a subtropical area of China:

    Mass evacuations as China’s south battles ‘big freeze’

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