This post was originally published by the Mountain Research Initiative in September 2018.
Mark Carey, professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, has received the prestigious King Albert Mountain Award for almost two decades of exceptional service to mountain research. We spoke to him about what this award means to him and his ongoing work to protect mountain societies and environments.
The King Albert Mountain Award is granted to people and institutions that have made exceptional and lasting contributions to the preservation of the mountains of the world – whether through research, conservation, development, arts and culture, or mountaineering.
To date, the award has been granted to 57 recipients since its foundation in 1993. At an award ceremony in Pontresina, Switzerland, in September this year, Mark Carey, professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, joined their number for his contributions to mountain science. The other winners in this round of awards were the rock climber Nasim Eshqi (Iran), filmmakers Mario Casella and Fulvio Mariani (Switzerland), and the Val Grande National Park (Italy).
Spotlight on an Overlooked Field
“I am incredibly honored and humbled that they selected my research from among all mountain researchers across all disciplines and fields in all the world’s mountains,” says Carey. “And I am particularly thrilled that the King Albert Foundation recognized my work in environmental history, which offers social science and human-focused contexts for understanding the world’s mountains, glaciers, and changing climates – areas that are usually dominated by natural scientists, not social sciences and humanities, and which can often be overlooked by policymakers.”
So what exactly is Professor Carey’s research focus? “My work looks at how people are affected by changing glaciers, and how people adapt to long-term climate change in mountain regions where they live, and sometimes die, with the ice,” says Carey.
His award-winning book, “In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society,” analyzes 75 years of climate change adaptation in the Peruvian Andes, with a particular focus on how people struggle to understand and respond to glacial lake outburst floods, avalanches, and hydrologic changes. Other topics he has written about include national parks under climate change, the history of mountaineering, and alpine health resorts and climate therapy.
A More Complete Picture
As an interdisciplinary scholar, Carey can sometimes feel like his work straddles too many research areas. “I often feel without a disciplinary home,” he explains. “I have tried hard to practice cross-disciplinary research – but that often leaves one feeling like a fish out of water! A dabbler instead of a master of a single topic.”
“Truly interdisciplinary and integrative research can be difficult and time-consuming. And even though there is a lot of lip service in favor of it, interdisciplinary research is usually harder to publish, takes much more time, requires challenging conversations and collaborations with people who see the world differently, and is often under-appreciated by scholars trained in single disciplines.”
But it was this broader, interdisciplinary approach – and the way in which it helps us to build a more complete picture of mountains as complex social-ecological systems – that was viewed as a strength by the award committee. And that, says Carey, is hugely encouraging. “This international support and inspiration to continue my work on ice and human societies around the world is thrilling.”
Breaking Down Disciplinary Boundaries
However, although this award is evidence of interdisciplinary mountain research gaining increasing global recognition, Carey thinks there is still some way to go. “We desperately need more researchers in the social sciences and humanities in order to better understand mountain peoples and societies – but these researchers must also reach across disciplinary boundaries, do work in the field together, disseminate results together, and try to reach policymakers together,” he says.
By working with other researchers in this way, Carey feels it may be possible to have a greater impact. “I think my most significant contributions have all come through my collaborative work—with glaciologists, hydrologists, engineers, anthropologists, geographers, and sociologists,” he says. “Through collaborations, my colleagues and I have offered holistic approaches to glacial lake outburst floods, and proposed hydro-social modeling to understand glacier runoff and downstream water use, among other things.”
“This King Albert Mountain Award shows that these diverse and interdisciplinary approaches are on the right track,” concludes Carey. “It inspires me to keep up these efforts and to continue the quest to help sustain mountain peoples and environments.”
More information can be found on the King Albert Mountain Award website.
Mark Carey is a professor of history and environmental studies at the University of Oregon, where he researches the societal aspects of glaciers and climate change and runs the Glacier Lab for the Study of Ice and Society. He has published the award-winning book, “In the Shadow of Melting Glaciers: Climate Change and Andean Society” (Oxford, 2010), as well as a co-edited volume on “The High-Mountain Cryosphere: Environmental Changes and Human Risks” (Cambridge, 2015). He has held several National Science Foundation grants, been a contributing author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and is a co-founder and co-director of the Transdisciplinary Andean Research Network (TARN). He is currently completing a book about the human dimensions of icebergs in the North Atlantic Ocean.