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Austrian Scientist of the Year 2012, Georg Grabherr, on US Tour

bridges vol. 38, August 2013 / Noteworthy Information


Photo of Austrian Scientist of the Year 2012, Georg Grabherr, at the podium. On June 25, 2013, Prof. Georg Grabherr, a recognized vegetation- and landscape ecologist, was elected by the Club of Austrian Science Journalists as "Scientist of the Year 2012." As the recipient of this honor, he will tour the US as an "Ambassador for Austrian Research."

Grabherr, invited by the Office of Science & Technology at the Embassy of Austria in Washington, DC, began his series of lectures at the embassy with a speech on "The Cassandra Dilemma – what alpine plants can tell us about climate change". The lecture hall was filled to the last seat as guests listened to Grabherr's informative talk, in which he described his interesting and amusing activities and achievements as an internationally distinguished scientist who, for more than four decades, has investigated the shifting of alpine plants.

Twenty-five years ago, Grabherr started a mountain research project with his former students, Michael Gottfried and Harald Pauli. This project led to the 2001 founding of GLORIA (Global Observation Research in Alpine Environments). The goal of GLORIA is to maintain a long-term observational study of the transformations of high-alpine flowers and, thereby, to detect the impact of climate change on natural ecosystems.

The idea was born during a 1988 excursion to Muerztal (in Styria, Austria). Since then, the original trio of scientists has developed into a network of 300 alpine observation centers on five continents. GLORIA's research results have captured international attention: Just last year, his research team published in the prestigious scientific journals Science and Nature.

After his talk in Washington, DC, Grabherr's trip stopped in New York, where he spoke at the Austrian Consulate General about the relevance of environmental protection and alpine plant research. Climate change and environmental pollution are politically sensitive topics in the US. In comparison to other industrialized countries, there exists a surprisingly large community of climate-change skeptics – especially members of the "Tea Party" Republicans – who question the scientific results of international climate research and ignore the researchers' predictions regarding the impact of climate change.

In addition to Grabherr's public lectures, he also met with associates from the National Science Foundation, one of the main funding institutions in the US for funding basic research, and participated in a scientific symposium with American partner institutions of GLORIA at Glacier National Park in Montana.