University of Innsbruck
View on Innsbruck from the Nordkette

View on Innsbruck, Tyrol, from the Nordkette Mountain Range.

Ris­ing slopes: Moun­tain research 1900–2019

Analysis of 200,000 scientific papers over 120 years shows the evolution of mountain research

Mountain regions provide direct livelihoods for up to one million people, and crucial resources for a significant proportion of the Earth’s population. Yet these regions are strongly influenced by intensifying climate change, growing demand for resources, increasing tourism, and many other forces. Research activities that consider the particularities of the world’s diverse mountain regions are essential to understand their resilience to changes and to detect emerging or increasing risks that threaten mountain environments and settlements.

The study „Rising slopes—Bibliometrics of mountain research 1900–2019“ underlines the increasing importance of mountain regions, as the number of mountain research papers published each year is increasing above the average of all published papers.  Of nearly 200,000 papers on mountain topics published in English between 1900 and 2019, over half were published between 2010 and 2019.  Many deal with topics of current concern such as climate, forests and water. For some emerging topics, such as biodiversity and ecosystems, numbers of papers in recent years increased strongly.

Nevertheless, research outputs are not evenly distributed. First, most papers related to the Himalayas, Alps, Andes or North American Cordillera. This implies a need for intensified attention on less studied mountain regions, to generate and to access regional knowledge. Second, the dominance of papers from natural sciences, compared to social sciences, implies risks related to insufficient information exchange with local communities. The results also suggest that, for several mountain ranges, more local scientists should be involved in international study teams to ensure access to local knowledge.  These findings underline the value of inter- and transdisciplinary research teams involving both natural and social scientists, as well as local actors, to investigate both environmental conditions and human needs and influences.

Analysing the national contributions to international mountain research, researchers based in the USA published the most papers over the entire period. In recent years, as Chinese institutions have heavily increased their research efforts, China has become a leading player in mountain research. However, researchers from European countries such as Switzerland or Austria, both with a long history in mountain research and a high proportion of mountainous area, produce the highest number of papers per capita.

Paper: Wolfgang Gurgiser et al. (2022) Rising slopes - Bibliometrics of mountain research 1900–2019. PLOS ONE, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0273421: