Making Connections at the 2019 International Mountain Conference

This article was republished with permission from the Mountain Research Initiative.

In early September, over 500 mountain researchers came together at the heart of the Tyrolean Alps in Innsbruck, Austria in order to engage in in-depth, cross-disciplinary discussions at the International Mountain Conference (IMC) 2019. Their aim? To further develop global understanding of mountain systems, their responses, and resiliencies. 

A member of the IMC 2019 scientific steering committee, the Mountain Research Initiative was well-represented throughout the conference by the MRI Coordination Office, its Principal Investigators, and members of the Science Leadership Council (SLC).

Interdisciplinary mountain research: Past, present, and future

Addressing a packed auditorium during the IMC 2019 Opening Ceremony, Professor Martin Price, Director of the Centre for Mountain Studies at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland, set the tone for the week ahead with a journey through the history of interdisciplinary mountain research. The driving force behind the three highly successful Perth mountain conferences that took place previously — a strong legacy upon which the IMC 2019 aimed to build — Price handed the mountain conference baton onwards to Professor Stefan Mayr, Head of the Research Area Mountain Regions at the University of Innsbruck, to resounding applause.

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MRI’s Carolina Adler pictured with other members of the IMC 2019 Steering Committee.

Following this exploration of the past, the MRI’s Executive Director Dr. Carolina Adler looked to the future in a speech that introduced ways of enabling global change research on mountains based on the experiences garnered by the MRI since its inception in 2001. In doing so, Adler outlined three key conditions she believed needed to be met to allow global change research on mountains to develop and flourish. With the first — “recognizing that MRI is you and I” — she highlighted the strong research legacy and social and intellectual capacity built by the MRI over the years, and stressed that this had only been possible through the engagement, connection, and collaboration of an active and dedicated research community, united in a common interest in global change research in mountains. “A big thank you to you all for this!” said Adler, stressing the role of the MRI Coordination Office as an enabler for the research network through its flagship activities such as GEO-GNOMEinvolvement in global assessments, and support for community-led activities such as working groups and synthesis workshops

“Co-production of knowledge is a social process, where enablers provide the conditions and the means for the research community to connect and thrive. The MRI is you and I!” — Carolina Adler. 

The second condition needing to be met, said Adler, is the glocalization of knowledge; relating the local with the global for the sorts of phenomena researchers are looking at in mountains. “There is a need — and pressure — to aggregate and scale knowledge from and across diverse and multiple cases. However, insights gained in any given case can be more effectively transferred or scaled to other cases, or indeed aggregated, if we can account for and retain the unique, context-specific characteristics of the case, and the conditions and mechanisms in which outcomes are derived.”

Lastly, Adler stressed the need for meaningful connection, and pointed out that although the MRI has 11,000 members listed in its Expert Database, there is skewed distribution in terms of global north and global south participation. There is, said Adler, a need to address these discrepancies through targeted activities with partners and networks in those regions, citing the MRI co-led research network and capacity building collaboration Conéctate-A+ as an example of MRI efforts to make those needed and meaningful connections. Adler closed by expressing her hope of fostering greater connections with early-career researchers, as well as continuing to make connections for our changing mountains with the research community as a whole.


Video above: During the Opening Ceremony, a screening of the short film Parasol Peak allowed the audience to accompany an ensemble of musicians on an Alpine expedition as they performed pieces of music, written by Manu Delago, inspired by the unique mountain landmarks encountered.


Conference day one: ‘We must be curious and creative.’

Welcoming the audience to the first official day of the conference, Professor Georg Kaser, Dean of the Faculty of Geo- and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Innsbruck and Head of the IMC 2019 Steering Committee, stressed the important role of research in the face of climate and other environmental challenges.

“The scientific community is under enormous pressure, and has a duty to react responsibly [….] We must all listen to each other. We must be curious and creative.” — Professor Georg Kaser

This then set the stage for the first two keynote speeches of the week

1. Christoph Schär, ETH Zürich: Weather and Climate Modeling in the Alps: From the Early Beginnings to Climate Change

2. Christian Körner: Alpine Biota Under Environmental Change 

Workshop: Education for Sustainable Mountain Development

Among the many workshops taking place throughout the day on Monday was a session on Education for Sustainable Mountain Development, chaired by Kenichi Ueno, Associate Professor at the University of Tsukuba and MRI SLC member. The session proved to be a fruitful discussion of the crucial role education and training can play in addressing the challenges and opportunities faced by mountain regions in the face of global change. It also allowed for exchange of best practices, invited conceptual reflections on education with unique curricula for sustainable mountain development, and explored opportunities for future collaboration. A number of interesting questions were raised over the course of the workshop, including on the importance of multi-stakeholder perspectives and social learning, and ways of addressing environmental justice and equity within education for sustainable mountain development. 

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MRI SLC Member Kenichi Ueno leads the discussions during the workshop on Education for Sustainable Mountain Development. (Source: MRI)
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Participants in the workshop Education for Sustainable Mountain Development (Source: MRI)

MRI Session: IMC Synthesis Papers for IPCC AR6
It was standing room only at the MRI’s lunchtime session on IMC Synthesis Papers for the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The session was led by two IPCC Lead Authors: MRI Executive Director Dr. Carolina Adler and MRI Principal Investigator Professor Christian Huggel. The purpose of this informal session was to shed light on the assessment needs identified by the author team of the IPCC AR6 Cross-Chapter Paper on Mountains in order to support the production of papers valuable to the IPCC assessment process. “We need to deliver a more differentiated picture of mountains,” said Huggel.

Publications that specifically address climate change impacts, vulnerability, and adaptation within relevant themes being covered in the Cross-Chapter Paper on Mountains — ideally as review papers with a global or regional overview, or comparing at least two mountain regions — are particularly encouraged, Adler said. It should also be noted that, in addition to ensuring that AR6 has the right information and evidence available, papers that are included in the IPCC assessment process are highly cited, adding a further incentive for researchers to contribute.

“If we don’t have a strong basis due to lack of papers, key findings will be downgraded to low confidence. How far we can go in confidence is down to the efforts of the research community.” — Christian Huggel

Find out more about the assessment needs of the IPCC AR6 Cross-Chapter Paper on Mountains and how you can contribute to this important process here.

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Carolina Adler and Christian Huggel shed light on assessment needs identified by the author team of the Cross-Chapter Paper on Mountains (Photos: MRI).

Conference day two: ‘Bring people together!

Three keynotes eased participants into day two of the IMC 2019:

1. Markku Kulmala, University of Helsinki: The Significance of Continuous Comprehensive Observations – From Atmospheric Clustering Via Feedback Loops to Global Climate and Air Quality

2. Daniel Viviroli, University of Zurich: Lowland Inhabitants Depend Increasingly on Mountain Water Resources: A Global View from Mid-20th to Mid-21st Century

3. Mark Aldenderfer, University of California: The Deep Prehistory of the Human Presence in the World’s Mountains and Plateaus

MRI Workshop: Mountain Biodiversity and Ecosystems Under Global Change
In the afternoon, the MRI convened a joint double session with GMBA on Mountain Biodiversity and Ecosystems Under Global Change, with MRI Scientific Officer Dr. Aino Kulonen serving as a moderator. The 17 flash talks and ten posters presented case studies from alpine ecology highlighting the different responses species can show to long-term environmental change or experimental manipulations. The follow-up exercise and plenary discussion then returned to the critical question of how we still lack understanding of which parts of biodiversity matter for ecosystem functioning and ecosystem services in mountain environments. The moderators plan to summarize the input collected from participants during the exercise in the form of a report or publication.

MRI Workshop: Monitoring, Observing, & Informing on Mountain Environments — Status & Future Prospects

The MRI brought its activities on day two of the IMC 2019 to a close with a workshop co-convened with the GEO Global Network for Observations and Information in Mountain Environments (GEO-GNOME).

MRI Executive Director Dr. Carolina Adler began the workshop with an update on GEO-GNOME — an initiative which seeks to connect and facilitate access to diverse sources of mountain observation data — its recent activities, and its Work Plan for the next phase 2020-22, reflecting that: “GEO-GNOME is the only GEO initiative dealing exclusively with mountains. We are keen to continue to connect global Earth observations in mountain environments.”

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MRI SLC Member Professor Maria Shahgedanova presents the work of the MRI Mountain Observatories Working Group (Source: MRI)

MRI SLC Member Professor Maria Shahgedanova then gave an overview of the work the MRI Mountain Observatories Working Group is undertaking in support of GEO-GNOME. The goal of this Working Group is to facilitate the development of a network of mountain super-sites, where observations will be conducted at multi-thematic scale. These super-sites will also serve as hubs for regional monitoring. “What we aim for is the development of regional networks, with the MRI as a facilitator,” Shahgedanova said. “The observations are available, and the stations are there. What we need to do is bring people together!”

This was then followed up with a presentation from Dr. Elisa Palazzi, researcher at ISAC-CNR and GEO-GNOME co-lead, who presented climate change in mountain regions as seen through global and regional models, and outlined some of the scientific community’s needs in terms of observations. “There are many regions that are still under-sampled,” said Palazzi.

The workshop concluded with an open Q&A session, inviting feedback on some of the key challenges and opportunities for the scientific community in the development and implementation of connected mountain observation efforts worldwide.

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It was a pleasure to welcome the cohort of trainees participating in our collaborative Mentoring and Training Program in IPCC Processes for Early Career Mountain Researchers to the IMC 2019. Find out more about their time in Innsbruck and their initial impressions of the program here.

Conference day three: ‘A need for transdisciplinarity

MRI SLC Member Irasema Alcántara-Ayala kicked off day three of the IMC 2019 with a dynamic keynote speech on “Integrated Research on Disaster Risk: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of Mountains.” “Disasters are socially constructed,” stressed Alcántara-Ayala. “The hazard is the trigger of the disaster, but the level to which people are exposed to disaster risk depends on a variety of factors, including deforestation, land degradation, inequality and poverty, and so on.”

In terms of research into disaster risk reduction, the scientific challenges and needs of societies have led to transformations from mono-disciplinary perspectives into multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary approaches, said Alcántara-Ayala. Integrated disaster risk research has moved beyond scientific boundaries so as to not only understand the ingredients of risk and disaster causality and dynamics, but to manage disaster risk by working together with diverse stakeholders in the co-production of knowledge and practice.

Looking to the future then, she argued, integrated research on disaster risk should be carried out within an overarching framework that involves multiple responsibilities, commitments, and different spatial-temporal scales — and challenges and opportunities for the future of mountains should be directed towards enlightening decision- and policymaking and practice for societal benefit and territorial sustainability.

1. Irasema Alcántara-Ayala, National Autonomous University of Mexico: Integrated Research on Disaster Risk: Challenges and Opportunities for the Future of Mountains

2. Olivier Henry-Biabaud, TCI Research: Mapping the Growing Overtourism Sentiment in Europe: What Residents Tell Us

3. Hilde Björkhaug, Ruralis: Mountain Agriculture in the Bioeconomy


Conference Day Four: Synthesis

On the morning of day four — based on reports returned by workshop moderators and the observations of the IMC Synthesis team — a preliminary synthesis of the conference content was presented.

This synthesis team included Dr. Carolina Adler and Aino Kulonen from the MRI Coordination Office, respectively reflecting on the social and biological sciences aspects of the conference. A synthesis publication is planned. Further information will be shared on this in an upcoming communication.

The IMC 2019 officially closed with Professor Georg Kaser making the announcement that a subsequent IMC will follow in three years time, taking place 12-15 September 2022. Save the date!

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MRI’s Carolina Adler presents a synthesis from the social sciences perspective. (Source: MRI)
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The synthesis panel answers questions from the audience. (Source: MRI)

Workshop: Towards a Mountain Resilience Report: Regenerating Mountain Systems by Systemic Innovation
Following up on the same topic’s Open Think Tank at the International Mountain Conference (IMC) 2019 in Innsbruck, a post-IMC synthesis workshop deepened the discussions on the development of the first Mountain Resilience Report (MRR), that were had at a workshop that took place earlier in the week during IMC 2019. This MRI-funded workshop brought together leading scholars from academia and practice to design and develop a resilience report for mountain regions, with a geographical focus. The specific resilience angle in this synthesis workshop was on understanding and incubating innovative capacities to create and implement effective, real-world solutions for building regenerative mountain systems — and how this innovative capacity relates to and builds upon resilient landscapes and land use.

The main goal of this synthesis workshop was to recap and build upon the IMC Open Think Tank to form a core group in order to organize the development of the first MRR. During the workshop an initial outline of a joint review paper was developed, looking at the state of assessment and implementation of resilience in mountains — and their innovativeness — in line with the IPCC AR6 WGII deadlines for paper submission and paper acceptance. This paper will then form the basis for a joint research funding proposal to fully develop the first Mountain Resilience Report by 2021/2022.

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Dynamic discussions took place during the workshop Towards a Mountain Resilience Report: Regenerating Mountain Systems by Systemic Innovation. (Credit: MRI).

A full list of sessions at which representatives of the MRI were present can be found here.

Thank you to all who visited our stand and participated MRI activities at the IMC. Your comments, questions, and feedback are much appreciated.

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