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Alpine Meadows

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Altitudes between about 3,000 and 5,000 m in the Himalayas define overlapping sub alpine and alpine regions. Sub alpine region presents an interface of the last of trees (trees do not grow above this altitude) and shrubs. Alpine regions support grasses and herbs and are known as bughiyals (pasture grounds) in the Garhwal. This high-elevation ecoregion also has bare rock and ice, especially on the steeper mountain sides. An example is the Valley of Flowers. This heritage site is protected and grazing is not allowed here.

Alpine regions in the Himalayas were formed after a long geological process. The glacial action during the formation years helped create cirques and valleys. A cirque is a deep steep-walled basin on mountains that are shaped like half bowls. The mildly undulating gradual slopes towards the base of the bowl provide the right conditions for grasslands and herb lands. However, trees do not thrive here. Thus alpine meadows can be found above the tree-line but below the snow-line.

It is not uncommon to find rain fed mountain streams crisscrossing the meadows. Likewise these meadows can also be river valleys, the rivers themselves being fed by glaciers from the neighbouring high mountains. One such spectacular valley is the valley of flowers in Garhwal Himalayas and through this valley flows the Puspavathi River.

The ecoregion experiences cold winters during which snowfall blankets the slopes and meadows. Snowmelt during April and May results in additional moisture. The summers are mild. Cloudy days and fog are common, with clear skies limited to a few hours during the day. Similar situations last through the monsoons too, the only difference being in the temperature and almost incessant rainfall.

Beginning with spring and summer and proceeding through the monsoon, the bughiyals or alpine meadows are abloom with a variety of flowers in a lush green background. The shrub layer closer to the tree-line is bright with the flowers of Rhododendron shrubs in early summer.

Climate and aspect influence vegetation. The north-facing slopes, which are less exposed to sunlight, are cooler and retain more moisture. But the vegetation is dependent on the topology, soil cover, availability of water and other conditions aiding plant growth. As these conditions are not uniform, a vast variety of vegetation can be found in these regions.

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