Who’s Evaluating Swiss Landscapes?

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, how do you define a beautiful landscape? Machine learning algorithms can be helpful here, says Adrienne Grêt-​Regamey.

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Tackling “the Ultimate Challenge” in Greater Depth

I am delighted to join the MRI as a Scientific Project Officer and, as part of the GEO-GNOME project, look forward to working in an interdisciplinary and collaborative fashion to improve the availability and accessibility of data pertaining to the earth’s mountainous regions. Below, by way of self-introduction, I take the opportunity to say a few words regarding my recent doctoral research.  

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Does debris cover offset glacier retreat in the Greater Caucasus?

Elbrus Mountains

In this blog post, Levan Tielidze tells us about supra-glacial debris cover change for the Greater Caucasus. His recent study indicates more than a doubling in the area of supra-glacial debris cover for the Elbrus Massif‘s glaciers from 1986 to 2014, the largest glacierized massif in the whole region. 

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COVID-19 in Glacier Regions Update: Latin America Responds, Italy Uses Drones to Enforce Quarantine, and the US Copes

A village below the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca

 

For the past two weeks GlacierHub has made space in the usual Monday news roundup for coverage of the coronavirus pandemic as it impacts glacier regions. In continuing that reporting, the following is an aggregation of coronavirus news stories from global glacier regions, written by guest author Peter Deneen.

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From ‘Whom’ or ‘What’ do Protected Areas Shield the Environment? A Case Study from Mountainous Georgia

The expansion of protected areas has significant implications for local communities and economies. How can community involvement in this process build trust and help ensure sustainable socioeconomic development, and what are the challenges that such an expansion can generate? A new research project sets out to explore this topic in the context of the expansion of Georgia's Kazbegi National Park. Mountain and Rural Development Initiatives – Caucasus Region (MRD-Cau) , based at Tbilisi State University, is a collaborative effort between several local and international scholars with the shared vision of pursuing solutions to pressing challenges in rural and mountainous Caucasus. This platform initiates research projects focused on tackling issues related to the transformation of socioeconomic and spatial conditions, mostly centered around tourism development, management of protected areas, territorial patterns of local economic activities, etc. Importantly, most of the projects are based on interdisciplinary approaches that aim to bolster sustainable and inclusive...
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Taking Back the Hills: A Tale of Women Rights and Lands in the Catalan Pyrenees

I met Meritxell and Laia one bright sunny day in April, in the  Pallars Sobirà , a mountainous county in the Catalan Pyrenees. Both are women farmers and work in livestock management – Meritxell is a cattle rancher, while Laia herds goats and makes cheese.  Unlike most women in the region, both have made a conscious choice to live and work in the Pallars’ hills, despite the harsh conditions. Even as spring unfolds, from their houses they can watch the flakes of snow still covering the mountain pastures. Soon the foothills are slowly revealed, uncovering green meadows and flowers, with bees popping out from the white winter coating. Catalunya Pallars Sobirà. Wikimedia, CC BY-ND I met Meritxell and Laia through the  AGATA research project  on the social and agricultural dynamics in the Pallars Sobirà region. I am trying with my colleagues to understand the threats to agricultural and pastoral systems in...
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Workshop on Sustainable Water Resources Management in High Mountains in the Baltic Sea Region

The 2nd International Hydrological Workshop on Sustainable Water Resources Management in High Mountains in the Baltic Sea Region was held in Zakopane in the Polish Tatra Mountains from 10-13 June 2019. 

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Microplastics have even been blown into a remote corner of the Pyrenees

Microplastics have been discovered in a remote area of the French Pyrenees mountains. The particles travelled through the atmosphere and were blown into the once pristine region by the wind, according to a new study published in Nature Geoscience . This is just the latest example of the 'hidden risks' posed by plastics that humans cannot see with the naked eye. For now, governments and activists are focused on avoiding plastic litter in the environment, driven mainly by concern for wildlife and worries over unsightly drinks bottles or abandoned fishing nets on beaches. Plastic bag usage has been cut in many parts of the world, and various projects are exploring how to gather up the floating plastic waste in oceans . But little has yet been done to deal with polluting plastic particles that are usually invisible. There is however growing concern about these micro and nanoplastics, classified as particles smaller...
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GEO-GNOME Workshop 2019

In a blog post originally written for the P3 project, Marilen Haver – a PhD Student and early career scientist at P³ – describes her experience of attending the recent MRI-hosted GEO-GNOME workshop on 'Essential Climate Variables for Observations in Mountains'.

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University of Lausanne launches centre to promote interdisciplinary research on mountains

The Interdisciplinary Centre for Mountain Research (ICMR) was launched by the University of Lausanne (UNIL) as a four-year pilot project to contribute to the sustainable development of mountain regions. It does so by enhancing the synergies between 70 researchers from five UNIL faculties and nine research and dissemination institutions mostly from the Alpine region. Among these associated entities is the Mountain Research Initiative, supporting international outreach and connection. Inaugurated on 2 November 2018, the ICMR aims at deepening our knowledge about the challenges faced by mountain regions by using a wide range of methods from the social sciences, natural sciences, and humanities. Research will concentrate on a set of themes identified through discussions with UNIL experts on mountains during the centre’s design phase: time and sustainability, change and transitions, natural hazards and risks, mountain society, natural resources, ecosystem services, innovation, food labels, and tourism and health. But the integration of diverse...
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Linkages Between Tourism and Community-Driven Economic Activities: Shaping Sustainability in Mountain Regions

An interdisciplinary research project to bolster sustainable and inclusive tourism development in mountainous Georgia. Mountain and Rural Development Initiatives – Caucasus Region (MRD-Cau) , based at Tbilisi State University, is a collaborative effort between several local and international scholars with the shared vision of pursuing solutions to pressing challenges in rural and mountainous Caucasus. This platform initiates research projects focused on tackling issues related to the transformation of socioeconomic and spatial conditions, mostly centered around tourism development, management of protected areas, territorial patterns of local economic activities, etc. Importantly, most of the projects are based on interdisciplinary approaches that aim to bolster sustainable and inclusive development. One such project – ‘Linkages between Tourism and Community-driven Economic Activities: Shaping Sustainability in Mountain Regions’ – is outlined below. Motivation The project presented in this article was inspired by the research results of the international interdisciplinary project ‘AMIES II - Scenario Development for Sustainable...
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20th Swiss Global Change Day

The annual Swiss Global Change Day, organized by ProClim, brings together Swiss and international scientists and practitioners to present and discuss highlights of climate and global change research from different fields. This year’s programme was full of familiar faces from the MRI, with MRI Chair Rolf Weingartner chairing the first session and MRI Co-PI Adrienne Grêt-Regamey giving a keynote speech.   The Swiss Global Change Day is known for its excellent set of keynote speakers, and this year’s 20 th anniversary programme was no exception. The first on the stage was Dirk Messner from the  United Nations University . Messner’s talk, ‘On the (im)possibility of the transformation to sustainability,’ was a remarkably positive and encouraging start to the day, highlighting the long way we’ve come from Rio 1992 to COP24 and the amount of knowledge and technical solutions available today. Messner pointed that this is the moment for joint action to...
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The unique experience of a female science-art high-alpine expedition

[caption id="attachment_3750" align="alignright" width="350"] Expedition participants sit looking towards the Matterhorn near Zermatt in Switzerland. Image: Lena Hellmann/Girls on Ice Switzerland. Written by Lena Hellmann , Geographer and Leader of Girls on Ice Switzerland.  In Switzerland, only 25 out of approximately 1,500 mountain guides are female, in Germany this number is around 10 out of approximately 500. Scientific positions, particularly in the natural sciences, are dominated by men with with only 23 percent of all university professors in Switzerland  (1) and in Germany  (2)  being women. Even though these numbers have been increasing over recent decades, Girls on Ice Switzerland aims to further change these gender biases. As part of the international organisation Inspiring Girls Expeditions , the mission of Girls on Ice Switzerland is to bring out teenage girls' natural curiosity, to inspire their interest in science, and to connect arts and sciences. The exclusively female-guided mountain expedition encourages girls...
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Observing Glaciers in 'Real Time'

Written by Markus Gross. Source: ETH Zurich Hot summers cause glaciers to melt. That not only changes the makeup of the landscape and hence the maps of Switzerland, it also affects every area of society. A new, dynamic glacier inventory makes the impact of climate change and the changing landscape visible. [caption id="attachment_3695" align="alignright" width="300"] Glacier observation under the spell of several Valais four-thousand-metre peaks. (Image copyright: GLAMOS / ETHZ) The last time Swiss glaciers managed to grow at all was in 2001. Since then, the country’s 1,500 glaciers – as well as others elsewhere – have been suffering a slow but inexorable death. Until now, though, we have understood only partially how quickly they are really disappearing, and what effect that has on the landscape, people and animals. That is about to change, thanks to the Glacier Monitoring in Switzerland (GLAMOS) project. GLAMOS is working on behalf of various Swiss...
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Running off the road

[caption id="attachment_3639" align="alignright" width="400"] Mountain roads – and the cars and people on them – facilitate non-native species movement up to high elevations. Here: Davos, Switzerland It is a familiar pattern by now, confirmed over and over in virtually all mountain regions we study: roads are facilitating the introduction of non-native plant species into mountains. Humans introduce – on purpose or by accident – new species in the valleys, and from there they start spreading uphill. On their way towards high elevations, mountain roads serve as a great highway. But with increasing elevation, fewer and fewer non-natives will be found, as they progressively drop out the higher you get. The few that make it all the way to the top by road could possibly spread from there into the natural mountain vegetation, but even fewer species manage that. All of that we knew, indeed, but a crucial question remains: who wins this...
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(Hi)story of Traditional Agricultural Landscapes in Slovakia

[caption id="attachment_3517" align="alignright" width="300"] Traditional vineyard agricultural landscapes Traditional agricultural landscapes (TAL) in Slovakia are unique remnants of small-scale agriculture, with cultural, biological, and aesthetic significance. Typical small-scale mosaics often copy specific forms of anthropogenic relief (terraces, balks, stone walls) and form a beautiful landscape pattern. The presence of unique folk architectonic features such as vineyard houses, cellars, and religious features often increases the beauty and cultural-historical value of these landscapes. After complicated political and economic changes during the 20 th century, they survive on only 0.9% of the area of Slovakia, mostly in mountains, and are extensively abandoned. The changing political landscape The plains, basin valleys, and hilly parts of the landscape have all been cultivated in Slovakia over the centuries. The unique, small-scale division of land parcels stemmed from the adaptation of Hungarian Tripartitum law in 1514, which secured equal land division between each of a farmer's descendants. The farmers...
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Reflections on the Japanese and European Alps

[caption id="attachment_3487" align="alignright" width="300"] Mt. Hakusan (2,702 m), 45 km south-south-east of Kanazawa I recently visited Japan as a guest of the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science, hosted by Kenichi Ueno (University of Tsukuba) who has posted some JALPS blogs . He has asked me to post some reflections on my visit. On first sight, the Japanese and European Alps have quite a few aspects in common. Both are relative hotspots of biodiversity, with many protected areas and biosphere reserves. In places, both tourism – including large ski areas – and hydroelectricity are well-developed. There is a long history of alpinism, often associated with scientific research. There are steep slopes, and significant infrastructure to minimise natural hazards. Forests occupy the greatest proportion of the landscape – and are expanding because of decreasing harvests and the abandonment of agricultural land. Challenges include, first, accessibility to remote valleys – but tunnels...
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The power of the scientific family

[caption id="attachment_3624" align="alignleft" width="225"] Botanist working on Piz Tomuel in Safiental Switzerland in 2010. Photo: Sonja Wipf/SLF, Switzerland. I was lucky enough to grow up in an academic sense as part of a scientific collaboration that I can call my academic family: the Summit Flora family. Recently, the juiciest fruit of this collaboration was harvested when results from the Summit Flora  project were published in Nature ( Steinbauer et al. 2018 ). The analyses, based on 302 botanical resurveys of European mountain summits, show that since the 1870’s the plant species richness on summits has constantly increased. And more strikingly, this increase has accelerated hand in hand with climate warming over the past four decades, the enrichment rate now being five times higher than 50 years ago. Although several studies have suggested the link between warming and the upward migration of alpine species, this is the first time that the role...
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A story of hotspots and stepping stones

[caption id="attachment_2683" align="alignright" width="300"] A typical subarctic mountain trail, winding through a blueberry field (Vaccinium myrtillus). Predicting the faith of exotic plant species in cold-climate mountains Abisko, a small village north of the polar circle in Swedish Lapland. The origin of several mountain trails, winding through the pristine subarctic vegetation towards the breathtaking views at the top. A vegetation mostly consisting of slow-growing mosses and dwarf shrubs that seem to have been there forever. Yet during the last few years or decades, changes in this vegetation increasingly start to become apparent: several new species that are traditionally not a part of the subarctic vegetation are popping up along the trails. Clovers, common yarrow, sweetgrass or annual meadow grass, species that are typical residents of the milder parts of Europe, are now getting a foothold even here, in the high north. They border the trails, grow in the roadsides, line the buildings...
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Austrian Glacier Serves As Site for Mars Simulation

[caption id="attachment_2645" align="alignright" width="300"] Analog astronauts walking on a glacier in Austria (source: Österreichisches Weltraum Forum/Flickr). A manned mission to Mars is one step closer to becoming a reality thanks to a remote glacier in western Austria known mostly for its surrounding ski slopes and snow-capped mountain vistas. This post was originally posted last year on the  GlacierHub.org  by Ashley Chappo. The Kaunertal Glacier, located in the Tyrol state of Austria, recently served as a field site to test a mission of human researchers on Mars. A report detailing the findings of the analog mission was published in Acta Astronautica in September by Gernot Groemer, et al. The AMADEE-15  mission , coordinated by the Austrian Space Forum and 19 partner nations, lasted for 12 days in August 2015, during which a carefully chosen team of researchers performed selected experiments under realistic Martian surface conditions. But the glacier mission was not just...
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Ecological and Socioeconomic Impacts of Climate-Induced Tree Diebacks in Highland Forests

Background [caption id="attachment_2340" align="alignleft" width="300"] Figure 1. Entomologists sampling stands of Norway spruce dieback in the Bavarian Forest National Park, Germany. Photo: Heiner M.-Elsner. Mountain forests play a major role in the preservation of biodiversity and provide important ecosystem services such as climate regulation. However, some of these forests show extensive tree mortality (“forest diebacks”) caused by a combination of factors, such as severe and recurrent summer drought, pollution, and insect and pathogen outbreaks. Some of the most spectacular cases of forest diebacks are caused by bark beetle outbreaks, which have killed millions of hectares of conifer forests worldwide (Fig. 1). Forest diebacks are expected to become more widespread, frequent and severe. Indeed, warm and dry climate conditions increase the number of bark beetle generations per year and decrease tree vigor. Diebacks are accompanied by changes in tree species composition, which can happen either by natural regeneration or by artificial replacement...
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'Mountains 2016' dedicated to Mountains’ vulnerability to climate change

It has been more than two months since Mountains 2016 took place in Bragança, Portugal. The outcomes and impacts of the conference were many and all of them significant. Mountains 2016 included the X European Mountain Convention (X EMC), dedicated to “Mountains’ vulnerability to climate change”, and the 1st International Conference on Research for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions (1st ICRSDMR), dedicated to “Ecosystem services and sustainable development”.   X European Mountain Convention The X EMC (3 to 5 October 2016) brought to Bragança around 260 mountain actors (researchers, farmers, environmentalists, elected representatives from local and regional authorities, representatives of chambers of commerce and development agencies) to debate climate change adaptation in mountain areas. The X EMC presented a state-of-the-art of climate change in mountain areas in Europe from scientific, institutional and financial perspectives and, most importantly, promoted a broad debate on how people and particular mountain sectors can deal with...
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