Alpine Soils


Alpine soils have a lot of similarities to their tundra counterparts, except they are on high slopes and at high elevation. If it is cold enough, they can be Gelisols, like that of the tundra. The soils at the top of the Himalaya's are classified as Gelisols.

However, a great majority of Alpine soils are inceptisols, with spodosols under. These are baby soils.  


For every 1,000 meters of elevation, temperature cools 10oC. This means that alpine soils can exist at the equator. Unlike the tundra and artic, the daylight and seasons are variable. These alpine biomes have some of the most diverse climates in the world. On one mountain, several temperature and moisture regimes can be present on one mountain, depending on what the elevation is, and which direct the slopes face. A lot of rainfall occurs at intermediate elevation with fog and snow are more common above the tree line. 


alpine bogThe diversity levels in climate cause many different types of vegetation. Shrublands may change to pine forests and meadows. Alpine tundra had tussock-like grasses above the treeline, which gives way to ice. Marmots, elk, mountain goats, and insects live there in the summertime. Most things retreat back down to woods and shrubs. 

Relief and Parent Material

Most of the soils in this biome are weakly developed. There is a huge variety of slopes and parent materials. They have low bulk density and high phosphorus fixing capacity. Some of these alpine areas are on top of volcanos, and are andisols. There is a special type of histosol (organic soil) that occurs without being wet all year. These soils are called folists. Because decomposition is slow, the organic matter accumulates.


Some of these alpine environments associated with volcanos are very new, others are very old. 

Issues in the Alpine Regions

alpine erosion

These biomes are very fragile due to extremes in climate. Overuse by vehicle and foot traffic can cause severe erosion once the vegetation is gone, as it takes long periods of time for regrowth to occur. These soils, like Tundra soils, play a vital role in carbon storage and the carbon cycle.