CREA Mont Blanc: Climate research and education in the heart of the Alps

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The Chamonix Valley has long been home to some of the world’s most adventurous humans.  Not unlike it’s human population, Chamonix’s mountain ecosystems are home to similarly bold individuals.  Perhaps it’s in the water or the long history of adventurous spirits calling this mountain valley home — whatever it is, the extremity of this alpine landscape hones the survival skills of all it’s inhabitants (plants and animals alike) into a delicate balance of survival.  Now, with climate change disrupting these age old patterns, these specials creatures find themselves increasingly vulnerable. 

A History of Mountain Research

In response, some of these bold, adventurous humans founded CREA Mont Blanc in 1996.  An independent non-profit with lofty goals and deep ties to the local community, CREA Mont Blanc seeks to engage both scientists and the public. Their mission: to combine “high quality ecological research with communication and education initiatives” — including the first citizen science efforts in France and some of the coolest ecological research happening in the valley today.  

Climate change is changing the growing season length and conditions in the Alps.

This image highlights the temperature change and climate conditions as you gain elevation up a mountain side. With climate change, the temperature and growing season duration are increasing at higher elevations. Copyright: CREA Mont-Blanc

CREA Mont Blanc is based in the heart of Chamonix’s hustle and bustle.  Appropriately, their offices are in the historic building first established in 1881 by Joseph Vallot, a dynamic scientist who focused his research on the valley after an historic ascent of the iconic Mont Blanc.  Now a mainstream organization, CREA is looked to as a climate leader in this part of the French Alps and beyond.  

CREA is a an acronym of the French Centre de Recherches sur les Ecosystèmes d’Altitude, or Research Center for Alpine Ecosystems. 

 

Blooming flowers in the Alps

The flora blooming patterns are quickly changing in the Alps with warmer temperatures. Copyright: Kevin J. Wolff (KJWolffPhotography.com)

Changing Patterns

The European Alps have seen significant change over the past century.  According to CREA Mont Blanc’s website, “over the course of the 20th century, temperatures have risen by 2 degrees Celsius — greater than the French average of 1.4 degrees Celsius and double the increase recorded in the Northern Hemisphere” as a whole.  That means species would need to retreat 100 meters up slope to continue life as they know it.  Unfortunately, there is only so much available space upslope.  And any species capable of this migratory movement will likely create a new set of problems as they crowd out other native plants and animals. 

Switzerland temperature change based on 1961-1990 average.

This graph illustrates the average annual temperatures in Switzerland. The average is compared with 1961-1990 average. Blue bars indicate cooler than average temperatures while red indicate warmer. Copyright: Meteo Suisse

Why data recording & science is important: 

Indigenous peoples around the world have been tracking and recording pattern changes for decades.  The challenge: they aren’t always the loudest voice in the room.  One way to amplify our allies’ voices is to collect the data and the numbers behind these changing patterns.  

With over 60 automated temperature gauges around the Alps, CREA Mont Blanc is doing just that.  According to their website, “this unique monitoring network allows researchers to compare climate data (temperature and snowpack) with flora and fauna observation data”.  In addition, they’ve made the monitoring stations’ information available to the public to help bolster awareness and hopefully advocacy.  

How you can help:  

We are working to establish citizen science opportunities for travelers in the Alps.  With CREA Mont Blanc as inspiration, as well as organizations closer to home, we are assembling some fun, informative, engaging projects to put at your fingertips.  If you have ideas, curiosity, or simple motivation, let us know and we’ll point you in the right direction.  In the wise words of Anthropologist Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

 

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