A Farewell to MRI Chair Professor Rolf Weingartner
MRI News
article written by MRI
18.12.19 | 01:12

After almost 15 years as MRI Chair, Professor Rolf Weingartner is taking a step back to concentrate on other projects. Looking back at his time at the helm, Weingartner talks us through the evolution of the MRI over the years, its key achievements, and where he hopes the MRI will head in future.

What made you want to get involved with the MRI?

Since the start of my career, one of my focal points has been on Swiss hydrology – and as soon as you combine hydrology and Switzerland it is obvious that mountains become involved. They are the water towers of Switzerland, and indeed of Europe! And mountains and mountain hydrology have become increasingly important over the years because of climate change and its impact on the cryosphere; mountains are strongly affected, with their retreating glaciers, melting permafrost, changing snow cover, and so on. So this combination felt like a natural fit for the MRI.

How has the MRI changed during the time you have been Chair?

In the beginning – well, in my beginning at the MRI – the focus was on enabling research in mountains. But we also realized that the MRI needed to go a step further. That meant initiating our own projects, such as GEO-GNOME. That was the starting point in the transformation towards the MRI we have today. We then launched our funded synthesis workshops; we realized that the MRI has the potential to bring people from different parts of the world together to exchange ideas on key topics and to prepare outputs, such as research papers – or indeed to form the starting point for a bigger, more long-term project. These synthesis workshops have been very promising, and I think this is a real success story in connecting the mountain research community.

The MRI is now a unique, worldwide network which has a fantastic potential. There is a lot of hard work behind this, to build up a network of almost 12,000 people! And I think the MRI Coordination Office is doing an excellent job maintaining this network, not just in terms of numbers but in terms of creating active members. For me, it was always very important that the MRI is a team, a collaboration. Everyone has their strengths, and when you bring all these strengths together as a group you can achieve much more. This has helped move the MRI on to the next level; we have a new direction, an enhanced profile supported by new and exciting projects, our new website and identity… a new MRI! We have built on the fantastic work done before and put strong foundations in place for the future.

Rolf in Guttanen
Rolf 2 SLC Trip Smaller

Pictured: Prof. Rolf Weingartner in the Swiss mountain village of Guttannen, which – with the support of experts like Weingartner – is implementing a number of adaptation measures in order to cope with the impacts of climate change.
(Image credit above left: Daniel Bürki, Guttannen. Other images MRI).

Where would you like to see the MRI go from here?

I view the MRI’s ongoing work around mountain observatories as having a lot of potential. It’s a tragedy that mountains cover – depending on the analysis – about 20 percent of the land surface of the Earth, and yet there is still such limited data available about these important regions. How can we plan a sustainable future without good information? I think there we can do much better. And so the MRI’s work connecting observatories and opening up access to mountain data is very important.

Another important step that I have seen the MRI take with Carolina Adler as Executive Director is our involvement in IPCC processes, influencing politics and adaptation strategies. I think that’s the way we have to go more in future. That means stepping beyond the zone of the scientists, and reaching outwards into daily practice and politics. How can we bring these two worlds closer together? We need to remember that other institutions, like private companies, also contribute towards solving the problems we face – and that they tend to forget the scientific solutions. And scientists often have solutions, but don’t have the time or the means to communicate these findings to policy and practice.

Importantly, we shouldn’t forget to involve local people in research. I think this is the way we should work more and more; not saying as scientists “we have a problem here,” but actually asking the people who are affected “are we addressing the right problems, the right questions?” Financial restrictions have limited our ability to build regional networks, but I think this is a fantastic way to upscale and downscale information between the MRI Coordination Office and the regions so that we have a clear picture of the real, day-to-day problems facing mountains and mountain people locally. I think there is still huge potential for the MRI to go in this direction. With the wider financial support of other mountain countries, we could be even stronger and do the same fantastic work on a regional level as is being undertaken on a global level by the MRI at the moment.

Any words of advice for your successor, Professor Jörg Balsiger?

I am very happy that Jörg is taking over as MRI Chair. He has been such a positive and supportive Co-Chair – it has been fantastic to work with him, and he has really helped to move the MRI on to the next level. He also offers the MRI valuable expertise, bringing in the human dimension which I think is very important. I hope that he continues with the enthusiasm that he has shown so far to shape and guide the MRI on its way towards a glorious future. It is such a fantastic, interdisciplinary, international organization, and I think it is really worth supporting!

The MRI team would like to express our gratitude to Rolf for all his support over the years. We are delighted that we will continue to benefit from his knowledge and expertise thanks to his acceptance of a role on the MRI Science Leadership Council – and we also wish him all the very best in his future endeavors, both within and beyond our changing mountains!