Onwards and Upwards on the Edge of the Alps
DSC 0002Following a year of exciting developments for the MRI, its Science Leadership Council met in Aeschi, Switzerland, 8-11 November to evaluate progress, review objectives, and set new priorities for 2019 – and beyond!

Kicking off the MRI Science Leadership Council (SLC) Meeting 2018, MRI Executive Director Dr. Carolina Adler expressed her thanks to the SLC’s for making the time to come together in this way. “It’s a pleasure to have this opportunity to meet with you all face-to-face, and I hope over the next few days together we can steer a course towards implementing our joint mission for mountain research in 2019.”

“A better mountain future”
Taking place in Aeschi in Switzerland’s Bernese Oberland, a gateway to the Swiss Alps, the location seemed fitting for the tasks ahead – a point not lost on MRI Chair Prof. Rolf Weingartner. “This is a wonderful opportunity for us to come together on the edge of the Alps and reflect on the excellent progress made over the last year. It’s also a chance to provoke discussion on the future of the MRI. We have seen a lot of change over the past few decades – the mean temperature in the Swiss middle lands has increased by 1.6 degrees Celsius since 1991 – and science hasn’t been able to address these major challenges in a concrete way. We need to not only document mountain changes, we also need to generate ideas on how to achieve a better mountain future. A new science in mountains.” These words set the scene for a dynamic and intense few days.

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Past reflections and future goals
The meeting was a chance for reflection, examining the progress made to date and collecting SLC feedback and ideas. It was also a key opportunity to explore the current status of mountain research in general, and further define the role of the MRI in promoting global change research in mountains.

Looking back on developments over the past year, Dr. Adler highlighted several of the MRI’s key achievements in relation to the seven goals that shape its activities. These include the MRI guest editing two journal Special Issues on climate change in mountains, and its involvement in the IPCC Special Report on Oceans and Cryosphere in a Changing Climate – with several MRI representatives among the Lead Authors. The MRI is also working on capacity building in this area, with an event taking place in December 2018 that aims to provide early-career researchers with information on the IPCC assessment process.

In terms of engaging in policy processes and ensuring mountain concerns are visible, the MRI is member of the Mountain Partnership Steering Committee, as well as continuing as a Programme Board Member of GEO. The MRI was also an active partner organization of the World Mountain Forum 2018, and will co-chair the WMO High Mountains Summit in autumn 2019. The production of online content has also been expanded and its social media presence continues to grow – supported by a sharpened brand identity and improved communications platforms, with a new website to better serve the mountain research community planned for early 2019.

The SLC’s were subsequently asked to provide feedback on which of the MRI’s seven goals, they felt had been addressed well versus those which require further efforts, and to offer suggestions for concrete activities to meet these goals. The results of this discussion will help to shape the MRI Science Plan post 2019.

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Progress made on SLC-led projects
Following decisions taken at last year’s SLC meeting, the SLC members have established three synthesis projects for 2018-19 focusing on the following areas of priority: Mountain Observatories; Mountain Governance; and Education for Sustainable Mountain Development. The meeting was therefore also a chance for SLCs to make progress on these joint collaborative commitments, seek feedback from the wider group, and provide an update on agreed milestones and outcomes so far. 

Each of these groups is in the process of developing concrete products, from position papers to online inventories and surveys, working to a deadline of September 2019. Further details about each SLC project group will be made available online early next year.

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Pictured: Daniel Bürki, Natural Risk Protection Manager in Guttannen, guides SLC members around Guttannen's key hazard sites.

“The most productive meeting I’ve ever had!”
The meeting was rounded off with a half-day field trip into the Bernese mountains. SLC members visited Guttannen, a Swiss mountain village facing significant and increasing threats from landslides and avalanches as a result of climate chance. An interesting example of interdisciplinary collaboration, Guttannen regularly invites universities and other stakeholders to learn from and support its adaptation strategy – offering insights into the ways in which the village is attempting to reduce the risks faced by its inhabitants, crucial transport links, and infrastructure.

As the meeting drew to a close, SLC members took the opportunity to provide some final feedback. “This has been the most productive meeting I have ever had,” commented one. “I really appreciate the chance to network and gain different perspectives.” Thanking the SLCs for their energy and enthusiasm, Prof. Weingartner said that it had been an incredibly constructive few days. “I’m very optimistic that this is the starting point for an exciting future for the MRI as it continues to make connections for our changing mountains.”

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Pictured: MRI SLC members and the Coordination Office team in front of the KWO hydropower plant just outside Guttannen, which runs off glacier meltwater, following a tour of its facilities.