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Definition and introduction: the Alps and alpine climates

Although mountains differ considerably from one region to another, one common feature is the complexity of their topography, which results in some of the sharpest gradients found in continental areas. Related characteristics include rapid and systematic changes in climatic parameters, in particular temperature and precipitation, over very short distances (Beniston, 2003); greatly enhanced direct runoff and erosion; systematic variation of other climatic (e.g., radiation) and environmental factors (e.g., differences in soil types). Mountains in many parts of the world are susceptible to the impacts of a rapidly changing climate, and provide interesting locations for the early detection and study of the signals of climatic change and its impacts on hydrological, ecological, and societal systems. All these features have a bearing on the location, behavior, and evolution of alpine cryospheric systems.

The Alps cover just over