Making Connections at #IMC22 – Highlights and Reflections
MRI News
article written by MRI
29.09.22 | 09:09

This month over 800 mountain researchers came together at the heart of the Tyrolean Alps in Innsbruck, Austria for the 2022 International Mountain Conference (IMC), the largest of its kind featuring over 60 events focusing on a broad range of mountain research topics from across all disciplines.

Three Years of Vast Change

IMC is triannual, but this year’s conference felt particularly special as it was one of the first opportunities for the global mountain research community to come together in person after the pandemic. Additionally, for many PhD students and early career researchers, the IMC was a chance for them to showcase their work, gain useful feedback, and make new connections – much of which was a challenge during the pandemic period.

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Pictured above:  Engaging discussion and presentations in the Poster Garden.

What also rang true throughout the conference was the notion that mountains have changed dramatically in these last three years. The impacts have been felt worldwide and here was the chance for the research community to further develop global understanding of mountain systems, their responses, adaptation, and transformation.

The Mountain Research Initiative was well-represented throughout the conference by the MRI Coordination Office, its Co-Principal Investigators (Co-PIs), members of the Science Leadership Council (SLC) members, and the many network members from around the world who make the MRI what it is today.

Adapting to Climate Change

Mountains are at the frontline of climate change, with a diminishing  cryosphere and changing precipitation patterns disrupting water flows and ecosystem dynamics, creating and worsening natural hazards that impact communities both in mountains and downstream. A two-part session ‘Mountain climate change adaptation: data, knowledge, and governance‘ convened by the ‘Adaptation at Altitude‘ programme consortium and chaired by the MRI’s Carolina Adler brought together several excellent presentations. Some participants noted the resounding need to see mountains as a diverse, interconnected system. One mentioned the need to move beyond tracking adaptation to a more granular way of thinking about its characteristics while also considering the potential for maladaptation. Another added that this is where community-based monitoring efforts can increase engagement, local relevance, knowledge, and time-field.

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Pictured above: ‘Conceptualizing, Characterizing, and Closing Adaptation Gaps in Mountains’ by Graham McDowell and Madison Stevens.

Strengthening the Science-Policy Dialogue

Two special evening sessions explored recent examples and firsthand experiences in science-policy dialogue.

The first, ‘Global Assessments and Prospects for Strengthening a Science-policy Dialogue on Mountains: Experiences from The IPCC Sixth Assessment (AR6)‘ moderated by MRI Co-PI Christian Huggel provided conference attendees an opportunity to get an insider’s view on a process that demanded a concerted and collective interdisciplinary effort that not only responded to the assessment-relevant knowledge needs, but also actively engaged in its knowledge production process. And what a process was, as Adler explained how the authors had to learn and operationalize quickly. “To do justice for mountain research and knowledge we felt a big sense of responsibility to do (this report) well,” she said.

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Pictured above: Panel discussion on ‘Approaches to Synthesizing and Assessing Mountain Systems’ .

The following evening’s session ‘Approaches to Synthesizing and Assessing Mountain Systems‘ moderated by MRI SLC member Shawn Marshall featured a panel of those involved in leading major mountain-focused assessments activities including the MRI’s Carolina Adler (IPCC), Ignacio Palomo (IPBES), Graham MacDowell (CMA), and Philippus Wester (ICIMOD and its HIMAP). They asked each other, have these assessment reports achieved their goals?

“That’s the billion-dollar question,” replied Palomo.

“We need changes in the way society is doing things, so where is the impact?” Adler added, “For me, the AR6 report was not the end goal. The report is a tool to engage in a dialogue with the general public. We need to be given hope and the opportunity to contribute to creating change, to engage in the solution space and expand the conversation beyond the report.”

Collecting Mountain Data – GEO Mountains Contributions at IMC

GEO Mountains took part in two main sessions at the IMC2022 in Innsbruck, Austria. Firstly, they co-convened a Focus Session entitled ‘Obtaining and integrating interdisciplinary mountain data.’ This session brought together numerous excellent presentations, with topics ranging from the detection and attribution of mountain climate change impacts conducted for recent IPCC report, the latest gridded population datasets, the modelling of drought impacts, and biodiversity monitoring in the Tropical Andes. In addition, there were contributions on the institutional and scientific procedures that can aid data integration and sharing (e.g., the presentations on the Smart Ecomountains LifeWatch-ERIC and the Davos Environmental Dataset projects). A particular outcome of the session with respect to in situ observations was that funding support needs to cover not only station installation and maintenance, but the (often considerable) efforts that are required to manage and share the resultant datasets.

Secondly, a GEO Mountains workshop was held on ‘Identifying Essential Socioeconomic Variables.’ The workshop was well attended, and all participants were highly engaged in suggesting how we should monitor the social and ecological components of the world’s mountain systems. Several participants remarked on the real-world utility that such a framework (eventually with an associated database) could have on real world applications, such as disaster response.

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Pictured above: ‘Identifying Essential Socioeconomic Variables’ Workshop participants.


Mountains’ Complexities

It is evident that mountains have been heavily impacted by climate change, but they are also incredibly diverse and complex systems, which makes mountain research both interesting and challenging. 

“Mountains are complex and it’s hard to make generalizations,” said MRI Elevation Dependent Climate Change (EDCC) Working Group lead Nick Pepin who kicked off day two’s keynote speeches. “There is no simplistic answer to the question ‘How much are mountains changing more quickly than elsewhere?”

Pepin presented ‘Enhanced environmental changes in mountain regions‘ where he examined the science behind enhanced mountain temperature changes and extended the discussion to consider other aspects of mountain climate, including changes in solid and liquid precipitation, wind patterns, and the impact of such changes on the cryosphere, hydrosphere, and ecological systems.

Pepin explained how mountains are a mosaic of microclimates, encompass many feedback loops of snow and vegetation dynamics, and cover all latitudes and climates. He emphasized the importance of elevation dependent climate change knowledge as it is key for understanding water resources, glaciers/snowpack, extreme events (landslides/floods), mountain ecosystems and human society.

Further discussion on elevation-dependent climate change was held during the IMC session ‘Patterns of Elevation Dependent Climate Change in Mountains‘ as well as a workshop following the conference with the MRI EDCC Working Group.

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Pictured above:  Nick Pepin presents keynote on ‘Enhanced environmental changes in mountain regions’.

MRI SLC member Shawn Marshall then delivered a keynote speech entitled ‘Nonlinear Processes Accelerating Glacier Response to Climate Change‘, giving an overview of several nonlinear and feedback processes that make mountain glaciers highly sensitive to temperature change, challenges in modelling of these processes, and implications for future projections of glacier change. He posed the question, “is this (glacial loss) a response to the increasing warming or what feedbacks are at play here to make glaciers so acutely sensitive?”

Echoing Pepin, Marshall noted the complexity of glacier systems and suggested the need for a broader, ‘Earth system’ approach to modelling the transforming alpine landscape (including off-glacier, hydrology, soil, vegetation, energy fluxes. Further discussion on this topic was later held in a two-part session ‘Changes in Snow Cover in Mountainous Regions of the Earth.’

Taming Climate Change – Stories and Pathways Towards Positive Transformation

Transformation in mountains was a resounding theme at this year’s IMC, with several MRI-led focus sessions dedicated to the topic including:

MRI Co-PI Adrienne Grêt-Regamey capped off the final morning of keynote speeches with an inspirational presentation ‘Turning climate change threats into opportunities for mountains with informed designs‘, highlighting various principles to better integrate scientific knowledge in local place making to harness the expected changes and accelerate the implementation of socially acceptable solutions.

“Climate change has been faster and more dangerous than we all expected,” said Grêt-Regamey. “Besides trying to mitigate these changes, we might need to start thinking about taming them.”

She began with the story of The Little Prince and his encounter with the lonesome fox on Earth who asks the prince to tame him so his life would have more meaning. Grêt-Regamey asked the audience, how can we tame climate change? Instead of focusing on the ‘gloom and doom’, Grêt-Regamey offered a positive entry point for transformative adaptation actions through a co-(design-science) loop.

“When we look at the current nature-based solutions, many do not have transformative capacities,” she said. “A co-designed loop can be adapted, and we can try to understand how good this past shifting system can provide certain services we want to have for the beneficiary we want onboard.”

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Pictured above:  Adrienne Grêt-Regamey’s  co-(design-science) loop.

Grêt-Regamey explained how we can tame climate by fostering systemic innovation and increasing stewardship.


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“We need to start with a positive vision and ask ourselves how we can reach that vision,” said Grêt-Regamey. “We need to include diverse actors and ensure we don’t have one beneficiary. We need to create a community of practice to be able to strengthen this community to react to these things. As the fox said, we will forever have a responsibility for what we tame.”

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

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

The next IMC will take place 14-18 September 2025. Save the date!