ⓘ Mountain research or montology, traditionally also known as orology, is a field of research that regionally concentrates on the Earths surfaces part covered by ..


ⓘ Mountain research

Mountain research or montology, traditionally also known as orology, is a field of research that regionally concentrates on the Earths surfaces part covered by mountain landscapes.


1. 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, others consider differences from 1000 m or more, 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.

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

  • elevations of 2500 m or more.
  • 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°;

2.1. Focus 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.


2.2. Focus 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 Humboldts 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. 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.


3. Denomination

Mountain research or orology - not to be confused with orography -, is sometimes denominated montology. This term stems from Carl Trolls mountain geoecology - geoecology being Trolls English translation of the German Landschaftsokologie - and appeared at a meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1977. 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. 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.

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.