Snow line

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This article is about the geographical feature. For the boundary in a protoplanetary disk, see Frost line (astrophysics).
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 seasonally be significantly 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.


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

Approximate levels[edit]

Svalbard78°N0300–0600 m
Scandinavia at the polar circle67°N1000–1500 m
Iceland65°N0700–1100 m
Eastern Siberia63°N2300–2800 m
southern Scandinavia62°N1200–2200 m
Alaska Panhandle58°N1000–1500 m
Kamchatka (coastal)55°N700–1500 m
Kamchatka (interior)55°N2000–2800 m
Alps (northern slopes)48°N2500–2800 m
Central Alps47°N2900–3200 m
Alps (southern slopes)46°N2700–2800 m
Pyrenees43°N2600–2900 m
corsica43°N2600–2700 m
Caucasus43°N2700–3800 m
Pontic Mountains42°N3800–4300 m
Rocky Mountains40°N3700–4000 m
Karakoram36°N5400–5800 m
Transhimalaya32°N6300–6500 m
Himalaya28°N4800–6000 m
Pico de Orizaba19°N5000–5100 m
Rwenzori Mountains1°N4700–4800 m
Mount Kenya4600–4700 m
New Guinea2°S4600–4700 m
Andes in Ecuador2°S4800–5000 m
Kilimanjaro3°S5500–5600 m
Andes in Bolivia18°S6000–6500 m
Andes in Chile30°S5800–6500 m
North Island, New Zealand37°S2500–2700 m
South Island, New Zealand43°S1600–2700 m
Tierra del Fuego54°S0800–1300 m
Antarctica70°S0000–0400 m

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

See also[edit]



  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 and 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 [...]