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Mountain research

Human-environmental relations in the Peruvian Andes.
Andorra la Vella, a mountain state's capital in the Pyrenees.
Paro Taktsang, a Himalayan monastery in Bhutan.
Kōfu, a Japanese mountain city.

Mountain research or montology, traditionally also known as orology[1] (from Greek oros ὄρος for 'mountain' and logos λόγος), is a field of research that regionally concentrates on the Earth's surface's part covered by mountain landscapes.

Mountain areas

Different approaches have been developed to define mountainous areas. While some use an altitudinal difference of 300 m inside an area to define that zone as mountainous,[2] others consider differences from 1000 m or more,[3] depending on the areas' latitude. Additionally, some include steepness to define mountain regions, hence excluding high plateaus (e.g. the Andean Altiplano or the Tibetan Plateau), zones often seen to be mountainous. A more pragmatic but useful definition has been proposed by the Italian Statistics Office ISTAT, which classifies municipalities as mountainous

  • if at least 80% of their territory is situated above ≥ 600 m above sea level, and/or
  • if they have an altitudinal difference of 600 m (or more) within their administrative boundaries.[4]

The United Nations Environmental Programme has produced a map[5][6] of mountain areas worldwide using a combination of criteria, including regions with

  • elevations from 300 to 1000 m and local elevation range > 300 m;
  • elevations from 1000 to 1500 m and slope 5° or local elevation range > 300 m;
  • elevations from 1500 to 2500 m and slope ≥ 2°;
  • elevations of 2500 m or more.


Broader definition

In a broader sense, mountain research is considered any research in mountain regions: for instance disciplinary studies on Himalayan plants, Andean rocks, Alpine cities, or Carpathian people. It is comparable to research that concentrates on the Arctic and Antarctic (polar research) or coasts (coastal research).

Narrower definition

In a narrower sense, mountain research focuses on mountain regions, their description and the explanation of the human-environment interaction in (positive) and the sustainable development of (normative) these areas. So-defined mountain research is situated at the nexus of natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. Drawing on Alexander von Humboldt's work in the Andean realm, mountain geography and ecology are considered core areas of study; nevertheless important contributions are coming from anthropology, geology, economics, history or spatial planning. In sum, a narrowly defined mountain research applies an interdisciplinary and integrative regional approach. Slaymaker summarizes:

The science of montology [...] starts with recognition of the importance of verticality, a distinctive feature of mountain regions, which imposes vertical control of the production system; marginality, which results from low agricultural potential; centrality of mechanisms of power and violence; population growth and expansion; and religion and myth, expressed in mountains as sacred places. Montology emphasises restoration ecology to include re-vegetation, rehabilitation, reclamation and recovery of the lost landscape form and function [...]. Landscape ecological effects are arranged along altitudinal belts and form the basis for a more comprehensive understanding of critical habitats for conservation and development. This approach has an underlying assumption of climax communities each fitting into a narrow altitudinal band.[7]


Mountain research or orology—not to be confused with orography—, is sometimes denominated montology. This term stems from Carl Troll's mountain geoecology—geoecology being Troll's English translation of the German Landschaftsökologie—and appeared at a meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1977.[8] Since then, scholars such as Jack D. Ives, Bruno Messerli and Robert E. Rhoades have claimed the development of montology as interdisciplinary mountain research. The term montology was included in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2002.[9] It defines montology as:

The study of mountains; specifically the interdisciplinary study of the physical, chemical, geological, and biological aspects of mountain regions; (also) the study of the lifestyles and economic concerns of people living in these regions.[10]

On the one hand, the term montology received criticism due to the mix of Latin (mōns, pl. montēs) and Greek (logos). On the other hand, however, this is also the—well accepted—case in several, already established disciplines such as glaciology or sociology.

Mountain research journals

The following list includes peer-reviewed journals that have a focus on mountain research and are open to both the natural and the social sciences:

Journals covered by citation indices
Mountain Research and Development
Journal of Mountain Science
Journal of Alpine Research / Revue de géographie alpine
Appalachian Journal
Histoire des Alpes – Storia delle Alpi – Geschichte der Alpen
Bulletin de l’Institut français d’études andines
Устойчивое развитие горных территорий / Sustainable Development of Mountain Territories
Journals not covered by citation indices
Himalayan Journal of Sciences
Revista Andina
L’Italia Forestale e Montana / Italian Journal of Forest and Mountain Environments
Beskydy – The Beskids Bulletin
Journal of Mountain Agriculture on the Balkans
Mountain Research

Mountain research personalities

  • Nigel J. R. Allen
  • Yuri P. Badenkov
  • Werner Bätzing
  • Axel Borsdorf
  • Philippe Bourdeau
  • Bernard Debarbieux
  • Veronica della Dora
  • Olivier Dollfus
  • Don C. Funnel
  • Donald A. Friend
  • Daniel W. Gade
  • José M. García Ruiz
  • Stephan Halloy
  • Lawrence S. Hamilton
  • Hans Hurni
  • Jack D. Ives

See also


Further reading

  • Borsdorf, A.; Braun, V. (2008). "The European and Global Dimension of Mountain Research: An Overview". Revue de géographie alpine. 96 (4): 117–129. doi:10.4000/rga.630.
  • Debarbieux, B.; Price, M. F. (2008). "Representing Mountains: From Local and National to Global Common Good". Geopolitics. 13 (1): 148–168. doi:10.1080/14650040701783375.
  • Ives, J. D.; Messerli, B. (1999). "AD 2002 Declared by United Nations as "International Year of the Mountains"". Arctic, Antarctic, and Alpine Research. 31 (3): 11–213. doi:10.2307/1552249.


  1. ^ [] Merriam Webster
  2. ^ "Editorial". eco.mont (Journal on Protected Mountain Areas Research). 5: 3–4. doi:10.1553/eco.mont-5-1s3.
  3. ^ [] Mountain Systems. UNEP
  4. ^ [] Precisazione sulla classificazione dei comuni montani
  5. ^ [] UNEP-WCNC (2011): Mountains of the World – 2000. Map
  6. ^ [] UNEP-WCNC (2011): Mountains of the World – 2000. Data
  7. ^ Slaymaker, O (2007). "The potential contribution of geomorphology to tropical mountain development: The case of the MANRECUR project". Geomorphology. 87 (1–2): 90–100. doi:10.1016/j.geomorph.2006.06.044.
  8. ^ Neustadtl, SJ (1977). "Montology: the Ecology of Mountains". Technology Review. 79 (8): 64–66.
  9. ^ []
  10. ^ []