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12.7: Climate Zones and Biomes

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    How are altitude and latitude similar?

    The top of Mt. Humphreys (top), the highest point in Arizona, is 12,637 feet (3,852 m). Only a few plants can live in this harsh environment. The life zone is tundra. Tundra is also seen in high latitudes, like Denali National Park in Alaska (bottom). Denali is at 63° north.

    Major Climate Types

    Major climate types are based on temperature and precipitation. Latitude plays an important role in determining the climate of a region. However, many other factors play a role in climate. Oceans and mountain ranges influence climate in the same ways worldwide (Figure below). You can see where the climate types are on the map, and then read about them below.

    Map of the world's climate types

    Find where you live on the map. What type of climate do you have?

    Temperature and precipitation determine what types of plants can grow in an area. Animals and other living things depend on plants. So each climate is associated with certain types of living things. A major type of climate and its living things make up a biome. As you read about the major climate types below, find them on the map above (Figure above).

    Altitude and Latitude

    Altitude mimics latitude in climate zones. Climates and biomes typical of higher latitudes may be found at high altitudes.

    Arizona is a state with a large elevation change. In the late 1800s, C. Hart Merriam noticed that the plant life changed with altitude in the same way it changes with latitude. So on a trip from Phoenix up to the top of the mountain, you could see all of these life zones (Figure below):

    Pictures of the Lower Sonoran, Upper Sonoran, Transition, Lower Boreal, and Upper Boreal life zones

    (1) Lower Sonoran, sea level to 4,000 feet: cactus, desert scrub. (2) Upper Sonoran, 4,000 to 7,000: pinyon-juniper. (3) Transition, 7,000 to 8,000 feet: Ponderosa Pine, some scrub; the snow-capped peak is Mt. Humphreys. (4) Lower Boreal, 8,000 to 11,000: Douglas fir, spruce; Douglas fir and Ponderosa pine are found together in some forests. (5) Upper Boreal, above 11,000 alpine tundra; see Mt. Humphreys above.


    Climate conditions in a small area may be different from those of the surroundings. The climate of the small area is called a microclimate. The microclimate of a valley may be cool relative to its surroundings since cold air sinks. The ground surface may be hotter or colder than the air a few feet above it. This is because rock and soil gain and lose heat readily. Different sides of a mountain will have different microclimates. In the Northern Hemisphere, a south-facing slope receives more solar energy than a north-facing slope. Each side supports different amounts and types of vegetation.

    Further Reading

    Tropical Moist Climates

    Dry Climates

    Temperate Climates

    Continental Climates

    Polar Climates


    • Altitude and latitude produce similar climate zones and life zones.
    • A biome is a climate zone and the plants and animals that live in it.
    • A microclimate has different climate conditions from the surrounding regions.


    1. What factors determine a climate type?
    2. How does a biome relate to a climate zone?
    3. Why would a region have its own microclimate, different from the surrounding climate?
    4. How are altitude and latitude similar for producing life zones?

    Explore More

    Use the resource below to answer the questions that follow.

    1. What determines the characteristics of the Moab desert?
    2. Where are deserts often found?
    3. Why are the poles cold?
    4. How can the ocean heat the land?
    5. How does the mean temperature at Reykjavik, Iceland compare with a similar latitude in Alaska?
    6. What brings the warm temperatures to Iceland?
    7. How do greenhouse gases affect climate?
    8. What are the principal factors in determining climate?

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