DymamitE – Dynamic Mountain Environments (DME)
Mountain regions across the globe are most dynamic environments displaying highest rates of environmental change. Processes occur over a wide range of timescales and with a great dynamic range. They include slow but long-lasting geodynamic processes that build mountain ranges and foster evolutionary processes generating mountain biodiversity. Abiotic and biotic mountain environments are continuously sharpened by the erosive power of ice and water. The drivers of the erosive power are provided by climate that is inherently dynamic and even on short-term displays high variability through changing weather phenomena. Mountains result from the interplay of intrinsic (tectonic) and extrinsic (erosion) forces and form a dynamic surface that provides the stage for evolutionary processes to thrive on. These processes can in turn occur on ecological to geological timescales as species and communities adapt to changing abiotic and/or biotic conditions. Soil formation and colonisation of fresh surfaces by adapted plant communities as well as subsequent species interactions result in dynamic processes that feed back on erosive processes. Animal interactions further enhance dynamic feedbacks that lead to non-linear processes and changes in biodiversity. The increasing role of direct and indirect human impact on mountain ecosystems and biodiversity adds another dimension of complexity: mountain ranges have been home to human societies for millennia. Initially, mountains provided food and precious recourses. Later, mountains acted as constraints for exchange of people and ideas, and today are environments that provide goods, services, and livelihoods for many societies. With technological changes and population increase human impact has become so significant that it now operates on a par with geological and biological processes, and a new era is currently being coined: the Anthropocene.
The increasing anthropogenic pressure on mountain environments has dramatic side effects. Erosional surface processes such as debris flows and rockfalls turn into natural hazards where they impinge on settlements and alpine infrastructure. The anthropogenic impact on global driving forces (i.e. climate) and local boundary conditions (e.g., vegetation, topography, water discharge) may trigger natural hazards and amplify or dampen the frequency and magnitude of these processes. Hence, being able to cope with the risk of dynamic change is essential for any mountain-based society.
A team of 17 scientists with backgrounds Geodynamics, Geochronology, Geomorphology, Hydrology, Ecology, Evolutionary Biology, Urban and Landscape Ecology, Environmental History, Economic Geography and Philosophy have joined forces to create a unique interdisciplinary research environment to tackle timely questions of international relevance within the framework of this proposed Doctorate School PLUS (DSP) entitled “Dynamic Mountain Environments” (DynamitE). Initially, the cohort of graduate students will be rather restricted but is anticipated to increase quickly and double within the first years.
Research excellence at the international forefront will be the leading characteristic of the DSP. Research project selection will focus on topics at the cutting edge of current debate. Graduate students will have access to state of the art technologies and receive full support and training in all aspects of academic life. The main target for graduate students will be to publish at the highest international level (a minimum of three ISI papers in the sciences) and the DSP will provide all necessary support to enable this.
DynamitE will act as nucleation point for several research initiatives across PLUS including a FWF SFB on Earth Surface Dynamics, several FWF and Academy of Sciences projects and will also serve as a stepping stone to establish a PLUS Zentrum.