Climate and vegetation
Due to their great height and the extensive west-east extension, the Alps act as a dividing line between three major climatic zones. The western and northern edges of the Alps are in the area of the westerly wind zone and receive high levels of precipitation throughout the year. The south of the mountains is determined by the foothills of the winter-humid Mediterranean climate, to the east there is a gradual transition to more continental climates. Due to their windward location, the western, northern and southern margins sometimes have higher rainfall than the foreland, the valley and basin landscapes in the interior are drier in places. With increasing altitude, temperatures generally decrease – about 0.6 °C per 100 m – while the intensity of solar radiation increases. At the same time, the growing season is shortened by one week each in spring and autumn.
As mountain and valley winds or foehn, the winds are strongly influenced by the local conditions. The foehn is a warm, dry, gusty fall wind on the leeward side of mountains (Fig. 7). It is created by equalizing air pressure from an area of high air pressure to an area of low air pressure. After crossing the ridge, the windward cloud dissolves along a stationary border, which, seen from leeward, appears as a mighty wall of clouds, a foehn wall. The falling, dry air warms up more than it previously cooled down as moist air during the ascent.
Temperature and precipitation resulted in distinctly pronounced levels of vegetation in the Alps. The coniferous forest level follows the natural deciduous forest level at heights between 800 and 1000 m . Above the tree line in 1500 to 2200 m, the zone of the Krummholz and the alpine pastures joins (Mattenstufe). Finally the rock and ice step follows . The snow line in the peripheral areas lies between 2500 and 2600 m, in the central Alps between 2800 and 3100 m. In the western Alps, individual glaciers reach down into the populated areas.
The wildlife in the Alps is characterized by high mountain animals. Ibex, marmot and chamois are known, as are the golden eagles, which are now strictly protected, and the Alpine crow.
Settlement and agricultural use
Only a good quarter of the Alpine region can be settled permanently. Nevertheless, the Alps are the most densely populated high mountain area in the world. Permanent rural settlements reach up to 1500 m altitude, the alpine pastures only inhabited in summer are 800 to 1000 m higher. Agricultural use has changed fundamentally over the past hundred years. Originally it was based on the cultivation of grain, which not only used the wide valley floors, but also occasionally reached an altitude of 2000 m in favorable locations. Special crops such as fruit and wine, which have replaced the cultivation of grain, especially in the basin landscapes and on the southern roofing of the Alps, achieve better revenues today. The livestock industry, and especially the dairy industry, is still of great importance. Valley meadows,
The Serviced is an intensive form of agriculture, which is operated in the Alps, in parts of south-eastern Europe, in Turkey and in some mountain ranges. It consists in the pasture management of the alpine pasture, which is free of snow during the summer. The cattle remain on the Hochalm under the supervision of herdsmen until around September. It spends the winter in the stables in the valleys.
Large parts of the Alps are problematic agricultural areas today . A rough climate, steep slopes, small plots and the often lack of transport links lead to unfavorable production conditions. Many mountain farms had to be abandoned because of these disadvantages. In some regions, the survival of farms is now being promoted with state aid. This should also ensure that the landscape is maintained. In other areas, alpine farms were able to survive because their owners have dedicated themselves to tourism.
The industrialization in Europe brought initially an economic weakening for the Alpine region. Not only was agriculture reduced, the traditional ore mining, which was no longer profitable, and the related handicrafts and trades declined. Only the extraction of rock salt still flourishes in the Eastern Alps. Only certain Alpine regions benefited from industrial development, especially easily accessible valley locations. Here some villages developed into cities with factories and rail connections.
The Alps as a service area
Tourism and its consequences
After the Second World War, the spatial and economic structure in the Alps changed permanently. Better transport connections led to an upgrading of the Alpine cities, and in easily accessible valleys there was a renewed industrialization due to the workforce there. Tourism became an increasingly important economic factor and also affected numerous previously structurally weak valleys.
Since around 1980, as part of the transition to a service society, the growth regions have continued to expand, while the rural areas that are not stimulated by tourism remain behind. Year-round tourism with more than 150 million overnight stays per year has developed into mass tourism of international character in the last few decades. Almost 14,000 lifts and 130,000 kilometers of slopes make the Alps the largest winter sports area on earth. The one-sided dependence of some regions on tourism is, however, economically risky. In addition, the sometimes excessive development threatens the ecological balance and thus the natural area, which is the basis of tourism.
What separates and connects – transit traffic
Despite their size and height, the Alps do not have a dividing character. The characteristic large and wide longitudinal valleys are connected to each other and to the foreland by transverse valleys and low passes, so that the Alps are more settlement and traffic-friendly than other high mountains on earth.
A major problem is the constantly increasing transit traffic through the Alps. To reduce pollution, freight traffic is to be increasingly shifted from road to rail. By entering current data in the interactive table, the further development of the transalpine freight traffic can be shown. Both Austria and Switzerland are also planning to build additional base tunnels. In order to achieve an economically, socially and ecologically balanced development of the Alpine region, an Alpine Convention was signed in 1991 between the seven Alpine countries decided. This international framework agreement lays down goals and measures for the responsible use of the Alpine region. The protection of the Alps and their cultural landscapes should be better integrated into future economic development in order to preserve them as living space for their residents. The International Commission for the Protection of the Alps, CIPRA, was set up to implement these goals.