Causal Chains Arising from Climate Change in Mountain Regions: the Core Program of the Mountain Research Initiative

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Gregory B Greenwood, Mountain Research Initiative, Bern, Switzerland
Mountains are a widespread terrestrial feature, covering from 12 to 24 percent of the world’s terrestrial surface, depending of the definition. Topographic relief is central to the definition of mountains, to the benefits and costs accruing to society and to the cascade of changes expected from climate change. Mountains capture and store water, particularly important in arid regions and in all areas for energy production. In temperate and boreal regions, mountains have a great range in population densities, from empty to urban, while tropical mountains are often densely settled and farmed. Mountain regions contain a wide range of habitats, important for biodiversity, and for primary, secondary and tertiary sectors of the economy. Climate change interacts with this relief and consequent diversity. Elevation itself may accentuate warming (elevationi dependent warming) in some mountain regions. Even average warming starts complex chains of causality that reverberate through the diverse social ecological mountain systems affecting both the highlands and adjacent lowlands. A single feature of climate change such as higher snow lines affect the climate through albedo, the water cycle through changes in timing of release , water quality through the weathering of newly exposed material, geomorphology through enhanced erosion, plant communities through changes in climatic water balance, and animal and human communities through changes in habitat conditions and resource availabilities. Understanding these causal changes presents a particular interdisciplinary challenge to researchers, from assessing the existence and magnitude of elevation dependent warming and monitoring the full suite of changes within the social ecological system to climate change, to understanding how social ecological systems respond through individual and institutional behavior with repercussions on the long-term sustainability of these systems.