Humboldt and the Mountains
The Impact of Climate Change on Mountain Ecosystems
During his research trip to South America, Alexander von Humboldt collected countless scientific data on the mountain ranges of the Northern Andes. When he climbed the Chimborazo in 1802, at that time believed to be the highest mountain in the world, he recorded in detail, which plants grew at what altitude and under what ecological conditions. These descriptions are the world’s oldest vegetation record along altitude gradients.
Since Humboldt’s expedition over 200 years ago, the flora on Chimborazo has changed dramatically. In the meantime, the ecological zones have shifted by around 500 meters uphill. The ice cap of the mountain, which Humboldt reached at 4,814 meters, now starts at 5,270 meters. Thus, the impact of climate change on “Humboldt’s mountain” is already visible today and draws attention to the fragility of mountain ecosystems.
The public event of the Leopoldina is organised on the occasion of the 250thanniversary of its member Alexander von Humboldt. It focusses on the impact of Humboldt’s findings for today’s research and on the contribution of science to the preservation of mountain ecosystems worldwide. Following his understanding of nature – “everything is interconnected” – and based on the results of his expedition to South America, Alexander von Humboldt accurately described the potential destruction of nature by limitless use of natural resources. In pursuit of Humboldt’s ideals, the event wishes to raise public awareness on the common responsibility for the natural ecosystems of mountain regions and for its preservation for future generations.