Mountains are globally distributed environments, which are home to a significant fraction of the world’s human population, flora and fauna. These mountainous environments are rich in endemic and, sometimes, endangered species, particularly within biodiversity hot spots. Simultaneously, mountain ecosystems and environments are directly linked to downstream regions through natural pathways (e.g. rivers and ecologic corridors) as well as human infrastructures. Through these pathways, mountains play an important sustainable development role by providing essential water resources and services to not only the communities living in proximity, but also to the surrounding downstream societies and ultimately the global community.
The role of mountain regions and the associated challenges have also been given special attention in the UN Conference on Sustainable Development Rio+20 outcome document “The Future we Want” (see mountains chapter, paragraphs 210-212) which builds on previous declarations, including the mention of mountains in Chapter 13 Agenda 21 in 1992 and other important policy documents.
All mountain areas and mountain ecosystems are sensitive to the effects of climate, global and environmental change. The threat of losing crucial goods and services and associated benefits for the well being of communities depending on mountain resources is increasing (mountain societies in particular). And although mountain regions in diverse areas around the globe share many common aspects, they are often trans-boundary in nature and have individual peculiarities, which need to be both specifically and commonly addressed. It is also important that data and information exchange between the various mountain regions be facilitated, and access to this existing body of knowledge be made more readily available to policy makers and decision makers in order to respond to the challenges faced by mountain communities.
For all these reasons, it is essential to establish a Global Network for Observations and Information in Mountain Environments (GNOME), utilizing the partnership framework of the international Group on Earth Observations (GEO). GEO-GNOME will capitalize on previous achieved results and outcomes (such as GLORIA and other global and regional initiatives), with the goal to provide free and open-access to data and products, scientific results and future climate and environmental projections; foster exchange of data and information across different mountain areas and between the scientific community and stakeholders and better connect them; build capacity in mountain research, especially in remote areas; and create a distribution system for the dissemination of this knowledge, in particular to the local communities and decision makers to enable for change.
Particular importance will be given to the definition of national or trans-boundary Supersites and regional Natural Laboratories, such as the area of Karakoram and specific regions in South America, Africa and elsewhere, including internationally relevant protected areas. These natural laboratories can serve as pilot areas for monitoring and measuring ongoing changes, develop future scenarios with special emphasis on ecosystem services, and implement adaptation strategies through discussion with local populations and governments, taking into account also the needs of downstream populations.
With this as motivation, GEO-GNOME plans to:
► Create a comprehensive partnership of key stakeholders and network of existing measurement and observation systems in the mountain areas, collecting the data and information; and making them available through the GEOSS portals.
► Stimulate new measurements and observational campaigns in mountain areas, with special emphasis on sensitive areas and UNESCO designated Biosphere Reserves, Natural Heritage Sites and internationally relevant protected areas, stimulating the design of new/better management of existing protected areas and the establishment of new parks.
► Provide the Earth observations necessary to support implementation and monitoring of international conventions and agreements, such as the Convention on Biodiversity (CBD), the United Nations Framework the Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as well as regional mountain arrangements and agreements such as the Alpine and Carpathian Conventions.
► Make best use of Earth observations and remote sensing data, which can display critical aspects of mountain areas with complex topography and high elevations.
► Develop capacity-building strategies and concrete activities in mountain monitoring and sustainable development, through the provision of on-site courses and training exercises with a particular focus on developing countries with fragile mountainous ecosystem.
► Identify potential Supersites and Natural Laboratories, with the related Points of Contact and/or Regional Champions, and start operational activities in the selected areas.
► Create highly visible and valuable outputs (e.g. reports with summaries specifically dedicated to groups interested in mountain environments) to stimulate the interaction between researchers, stakeholders and in particular policy makers to identify the key environmental and associated issues in each mountain area and trigger relevant needed action on the various levels (global, regional etc).
The GEO SBAs supported include Biodiversity, Climate, Disasters, Ecosystems, Water, and Weather.