Shelledy Elementary

Elevation and Climate

Colorado Life Zones: Seasons, Plants, & Animals

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Colorado Life Zones General Information

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Rocky Mountains

General Information

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Elevation and Climate

Snowshoe Hare

Seasons & Adaptations

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Sources of Information

Colorado Life Zones: Elevation and Climate


Elevation: how high a place is above sea level

Climate: how hot or cold it gets and how much precipitation falls there

Precipitation- Water that falls to the ground in the form of rain, snow, hail, or sleet.

Elevation and Life Zones

Shortgrass Plains: 4,000-6,000 ft above sea level

Semidesert Shrublands (West CO) : 5000-7,000 ft above sea level

Foothills Life Zone: 6,000 to 8,000 ft. above sea level

Montane Life Zone: 8,000 to 10,000 ft above sea level

Subalpine Life Zone: 10,000 to 11,500 ft. above sea level

Alpine Life Zone: 11,500 ft above sea level and above

Riparian Life Zones: anywhere near major lakes, ponds, streams, or rivers

Click here for an Interactive Diagram: Elevation and Life Zones

Elevation and Temperature

The higher in elevation you go the colder the temperature gets. For example, the subalpine life zone is a lot higer in elevation than the western semidesert shrublands. So, it will be much cooler up in the subalpine and alpine.

You might think it would be the opposite since you get closer to the sun the higher up in elevation you go. But, there is less air at the higher elevations and less atoms to heat up and bounce off each other. Lower in elevation there are a lot more atoms in the air to absorb the suns energy and make it hotter. There is more information on air density lower down on this page.

Summer in the Semidesert Shrublands

Summer in the Alpine

Semidesert Shrublands Alpine Summer

Elevation and Precipitation (rain or snow)

The higher in elevation you go the more precipitation falls there. The lower elevations of Colorado like the semidesert shrublands and the Great Plains get little precipitation. The higher elevations like the montane forests, subalpine, and alpine life zones are closer to the clouds and catch more moisture (water) from the clouds. Since the elevations like the subalpine and alpine life zones are lot higher (colder and get more precipitation), the water in the clouds turns to lots of important snow.

In fact the mountains collect so much rain and snow from the clouds that they create a large shadow where very little rain falls on the much of the lower plains on the eastern side of the mountain. This is called a rain shadow. Sometimes large storm systems will circulate around or travel south down the eastern side of the Rocky Mountains and dump lots of rain and snow along the eastern foothills. However, in general most of the rain and snow falls on the higher parts of the western and central parts of the mountains, leaving the shortgrass plains on the eastern side of the state dry.

Rain Shadow

Winter in the Shortgrass Prairies or Plains

Winter in the Subalpine

Plains Winter Winter rules most the year

Elevation and Air

Hows the air up the there? Did you know that air has different density. Air is made of lots and lots and lots of tiny atoms (way more than anyone could count) that are flying around and bouncing off one another. As you get higher in elevation there are less of the atoms bouncing off one another. This means there is less oxygen for you to breath. Way up in the alpine it may take you two breaths in just to get the same amount of oxygen you get in one breath at lower elevations. You get out of breath and tired much quicker in the alpine than down in the plains.
Air at different elevations
Oxygen at different elevations
Oxygen Levels Diagram Created By and Altigen

Altitude Sickness and Sunburns

Did you know some people can get altitude sickness in the mountains because they can not breathe in enough oxygen. You lose most of your energy, get dizzy, and have a difficult time thinking and making decisions. It can be very dangerous! If you start feeling this way when you are up in the mountains, then you need to head toward lower elevations to get more oxygen. For more information click on the following amazing website

Did you also know that you can get sunburnt much easier and quicker up in the mountains. There are less atoms bouncing around in the air to shield you from the sun's UV or ultraviolet light. Add in a bunch of snow that reflects lots light back up, and you can get sunburnt even quicker. When you go hiking, skiing, or doing any other activity up in the mountains make sure you bring the sunscreen.

High in the Rocky Mountains