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1 May 2003 The Mountain Research Initiative (MRI): MRI Newsletter Number 1, 2003
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This newsletter, MRI's first, represents a new feature of MRD's MountainPlatform section. The MRI newsletter will appear biannually in this venue and is also available from the MRI web site ( in pdf format.

A global multidisciplinary research initiative

To address the many important and complex issues of global change in mountain regions, a multidisciplinary initiative, “Global Change and Mountain Regions: The Mountain Research Initiative” (MRI), was launched in July 2001. The ultimate objectives of MRI are:

  • To develop strategies for detecting signals of global environmental change in mountain environments.

  • To define the consequences of these changes for mountain regions as well as lowland areas dependent on mountain resources.

  • To facilitate the development of sustainable resource management policies for mountain regions.

To achieve the above objectives, the MRI research strategy has been structured around the following 4 primary activities, each of which is divided into several specific tasks:
  • Activity 1. Long-term monitoring.

  • Activity 2. Integrated model-based studies.

  • Activity 3. Process studies along altitudinal gradients.

  • Activity 4. Sustainable land use and natural resource management.

The Executive Summary of the MRI Implementation Plan as well as additional information on MRI are available on the Internet (

Since the launching of the initiative, MRI has been building partnerships that will facilitate both inter- and transdisciplinary global change research in mountains. The Initiative has been formally endorsed by 4 core projects of the International Geosphere–Biosphere Programme (IGBP), the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), and the Global Terrestrial Observing System (GTOS). MRI is currently working with the IGBP Land Project transition team to identify an appropriate role for MRI scientific activities within the new IGBP configuration. In addition, MRI has joined the UN Food and Agriculture Organization's International Partnership for Sustainable Development in Mountain Regions and has recently become active in The World Conservation Union's (IUCN) Mountain Task Force Initiative. Last, closer linkages are currently being developed with the Global Observation Research Initiative in Alpine Environments (GLORIA) and the Global Mountain Biodiversity Assessment (GMBA).

During the first phase of MRI activities, when the focus is on process-based studies and modeling, the target audience is primarily the community of researchers working on global change issues in mountain regions. In the second phase of MRI, however, this knowledge will be used to define monitoring strategies for detecting and attributing signals of global change in mountain regions and particularly for defining strategies for the sustainable development of mountain regions. Clearly, the latter implies that the target audience must go beyond the scientific community. Thus, it will include policy makers, economic leaders, and the general public to integrate local knowledge and socioeconomic needs in the process.

The MRI office in Berne, Switzerland, is using the following methods and tools to foster collaboration in the global mountain research community with respect to the mentioned foci of the Initiative:

  • Survey of past and ongoing research on global change in mountain regions (review activity).

  • Establishment of a global network of researchers working on MRI issues to foster communication among existing research projects (database activity).

  • Initiation and coordination of research projects, that is, identifying gaps in current research and encouraging researchers to start new research projects to fill these gaps (“seeding” activity).

  • Organization of meetings and workshops to facilitate discussion on the state of global change research in mountains (meeting activity).

  • Development and maintenance of communication platforms, such as an e-mail list and a Web site (communication activity).

  • Publication of reports (eg, from meetings) and a newsletter (extension activity).

Principal activities and projects

Global change research in UNESCO mountain Biosphere Reserves

During the opening ceremony of the Bishkek Mountain Summit, UNESCO's Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura described a new role for UNESCO's Biosphere Reserves with the announcement of a joint MRI–UNESCO project that focuses on implementing integrated global change research strategies in mountain Biosphere Reserves. By establishing a cooperative research program, both MRI and UNESCO will realize significant added value to their research efforts. MRI represents a network of global change researchers from a wide variety of disciplines, who are keenly interested in global change research in mountain regions and who will benefit from working with the UNESCO infrastructure that links mountain Biosphere Reserves worldwide. In many cases, mountain Biosphere Reserves provide ideal natural global change laboratories with core-protected mountainous areas surrounded by lower-elevation buffer zones and transition areas that are more strongly influenced by human activities. Similarly, the UNESCO program will benefit from the accelerated level of global change science in the mountain Biosphere Reserves and the linkages to global change organizations such as IGBP, IHDP, GTOS, GMBA, and GLORIA.

The ultimate objective of this proposed collaboration is to provide an integrative research framework for regional interdisciplinary studies that address the causes and impacts of environmental and socioeconomic change in mountain Biosphere Reserves. Through such an integrated research framework, the critical mass of researchers from separate disciplines can be attained, which will be necessary to establish crosscutting linkages among MRI's 4 primary research activities.

State of knowledge overview

MRI is currently compiling a State of Knowledge Overview that portrays the status of global change research in mountain regions in a follow-up to the International Year of Mountains. One of the primary aims of this compilation is to facilitate a synthetic understanding of the interactions among climate, land surface processes, and human activities, emphasizing mountain-specific environmental conditions. This book will present overviews of recent studies and anticipated future research directions from key researchers in physical and social sciences around the world. Research areas addressed in the book cover (a) paleoenvironmental reconstructions in support of monitoring, understanding, and predicting global change effects; (b) observational studies and analyses of indicators of global change; (c) process studies along altitudinal gradients and in headwater basins; (d) integrated model-based studies of environmental change; and (e) research on sustainable land use and resource management in mountains. The book will be published in summer 2003 in the Kluwer Series Advances in Global Change Research.

Millennium ecosystem assessment

In 2001, the UN launched the Millennium Assessment (MA), which aims to globally assess the condition of ecosystems, the linkages between drivers of change and ecosystem condition, and the implications for human well-being. It is anticipated that the MA will achieve global recognition and political impact similar to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Chapter 27 of this compilation assesses how changes in mountain ecosystems affect the provision of ecosystem services. GMBA and MRI are taking part in the Mountain Chapter of the MA in a coordinating role under the lead of Christian Körner, University of Basel. Additional details are available at:

European Geophysical Union (European Geophysical Society–American Geophysical Union–European Union of Geosciences) Joint Assembly

MRI is coconvening a session with IGBP Past Global Changes (PAGES) at the European Geophysical Society–American Geophysical Union–European Union of Geosciences Joint Assembly in Nice, France, in April 2003 ( The session will focus on high-resolution paleoenvironmental reconstructions from sensitive high-elevation sites and will bring together mountain researchers who work with a range of paleoenvironmental proxies, such as pollen, macrofossils, diatoms, lacustrine zoological indicators, alpine glacial records, dendrochronological records, and geomorphological expressions of past environmental change.

Mel Reasoner "The Mountain Research Initiative (MRI): MRI Newsletter Number 1, 2003," Mountain Research and Development 23(2), 192-193, (1 May 2003).[0192:TMRIMM]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 May 2003

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