Expedition Anthropocene

17 Days 6 Scientists 1 Project

We will investigate the human impact on Chimborazo at different altitudes – from advancing climate change and its consequences for humans, glacial retreat and biodiversity, to acoustic ecological changes and the question of whether microplastics can be detected in the snow and ice. No less important is the question of how research is carried out nowadays.

RESEARCH

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Expedition Anthropocene – how humans change the earth

Never before have humans intervened so intensely in the earth system – they are the driving force of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene. In spring 2020, we – six members of Die Junge Akademie from the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina from a range of disciplines – will depart on a journey of discovery.

Just like Alexander von Humboldt 200 years ago, our research takes us to Ecuador and the volcanic mountain Chimborazo. Due to its location close to the equator, the summit of Chimborazo is the highest point on the planet when measured from the Earth’s centre. Together with our local partners, we go in search of traces of human activity in this environment.
Using methods from glaciology, biology, chemistry, acoustic ecology, computer science and medicine, we will investigate the human impact on Chimborazo at different altitudes – from advancing climate change and its consequences for humans, glacial retreat and biodiversity, to acoustic ecological changes and the question of whether microplastics can be detected in the snow and ice.

Bericht Alexander Humboldts aus Essai sur la géographie des plantes, Paris 1805.
Illustration from Alexander von Humboldt's report: Essai sur la géographie des plantes, Paris 1805.

Partners

Itinerary

Ecuador

The first stop on our expedition is Quito, the capital of Ecuador and the world’s highest capital city. We will spend a few days in the city to give ourselves time to acclimatise to the altitude, and set out from here on our first day trips.

The day on the active volcano Pichincha – situated just outside Quito – will serve as a kind of warm-up for the devices and team. We will climb to one of the two summits, Rucu Pichincha, situated at 4696 m. The tours on the following days will primarily focus on glacier studies and take us to 1) Cayambe, a volcano northeast of Quito which was the only point on the equator with perennial snow until the glacier began to retreat, 2) Antisana, a volcano and the fourth highest mountain in Ecuador, which features a wide glacier summit with four peaks and 3) Cotopaxi which, at 5897 metres, is Ecuador’s second highest mountain and the world’s highest active volcano.

The next days will be devoted to the highest mountain in Ecuador, the inactive volcano Chimborazo. The summit is the highest point above Earth’s centre and we will take measurements at a range of elevations.

From here, we travel on to Ambato and the Llanganates National Park where we will spend a few days in a complementary vegetation zone to the mountainous regions of the Andes. Here, the spotlight is on biodiversity, and we will be joined by representatives and scientists from the Universidad Estatal Amazónica. From there, we return to Quito, where our expedition will close with a colloquium at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

Team

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Find out more about the scientists, their research and what they're taking along on the expedition here!

Topics

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Martin-Immanuel Bittner | Medizin
In spring 2020, we will embark on a journey to Ecuador to answer central questions from biogeography, ecology, physics, chemistry, climate sciences, computer science, musicology and medicine. It is vitally important that the perception of these changes and their consequences for the local population features in any measurements and assessments of the changing climate. The impact of climate change varies markedly depending on the region and group, where adverse effects often disproportionally affect already disadvantaged groups. For this reason, we will conduct interviews with people in the expedition area with the primary objective of studying the assumptions and experiences of the local population. We will then formulate basic hypotheses from the results of these interviews and relate them to each other. This approach enables us to identify shared issues and perceptions of climate change and its impact on personal health which would not be possible using a quantitative approach. Furthermore, an interview study gives us the opportunity to gain crucial additional insights which can supplement the other expedition participants’ inquiries – e.g. the measurements on a glacier can be enriched by the observations of the people living there, which can offer deeper and more relevant insights.
Dirk Pflüger | Informatik
In the age of digitalisation, big data and AI, we can collect and analyse data in quantities and qualities which were previously unimaginable. Using present-day technology, data which would have taken weeks to compile in Humboldt’s day can now be collected (semi)automatically in just hours or days.  And data collection means that now, perhaps more than ever before, research is not over when scientists leave the field, but is really just beginning. The interdisciplinary focus of our expedition gives us the opportunity to collect a diverse range of data from widely varying sources: from microplastics in ice, insect biodiversity and species composition to interview studies and high-resolution audio and image data. For me, there are two central questions. On the one hand, I am interested in what type of information we can extract from the data, using algorithms from machine learning for example. The fusion of data from such diverse sources as on our expedition has the potential to bring considerable added value. On the other hand, I would like to explore ways to invite other researchers and the public to virtually visit the stops on our expedition afterwards and help them be part of it.
Ricarda Winkelmann | Physik
Although Ecuador is not among the main contributors to climate change (Ecuador is currently responsible for around 0.1 to 0.2% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions), the consequences of anthropogenic climate change are particularly drastic here. One of these consequences: Ecuador could lose two of its seven glaciers over the next few years. This has far-reaching consequences for the water supply, humidity and local ecosystems. But what impact does the increased melt and glacier retreat have on the people, animals and plants in the region? This is one of the questions which we will investigate on the Expedition Anthropocene. Alongside climate change, human activity also has other serious consequences such as the ever greater amounts of synthetic materials produced which end up in the atmosphere and ocean. Microplastic particles have already been detected all over the world, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Will we also find microplastics in the snow and ice cover at over 4000 metres above sea level?
Christian Hof | Biology
On the Die Junge Akademie expedition, I will focus in particular on the question of how the diversity and complexity of species communities vary between anthropogenic and natural habitats at different altitudes. A range of qualitative and quantitative methods (habitat structure characterisation, climatic measurements, light trapping nocturnal and crepuscular winged insects, image-based analysis of biodiversity and species composition etc.) will be used to collect data. Biodiversity research is inextricably linked to names such as Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace, but particularly to their voyages to explore the flora and fauna in remote regions. The insights into biogeography, evolution and ecology gained from the expeditions of the early biodiversity researchers still shape our understanding of the biosphere today.

Inspired by the explicitly integrative nature of Humboldt’s journeys, a modern, interdisciplinary expedition offers exciting opportunities to address topical questions such as the ecology of global change. Key topics include the transitions in flora, fauna and ecosystem structure based on historical comparison and the characterisation of the impact of human activity on previously natural ecosystems, e.g. through determining factors such as land use, environmental pollution and climate change.

Miriam Akkermann | Musicology
In this project, I will make field recordings which will be used to create sound profiles. I will then investigate and work creatively with these sound profiles in the context of acoustic ecology. Acoustic ecology is based on the World Soundscape Project founded by Murray Schafer at the end of the 1960s, which aimed to draw attention to the sonic environment. In Ecuador, I will use a range of recording formats to make field recordings of glacier regions as well as areas of the Llanganates National Park. The research questions include: Which human-induced sounds can be heard? How does the soundscape change depending on the altitude? Are there sounds, from animals for example, which are seldom heard or unexpected (location, activity time, expression etc.)? In addition, I plan to make sound recordings inside boreholes in the ice where specific sound events can be triggered, recorded and analysed. The central question is: What information can be recorded using simple audio measurements? This project is carried out in collaboration with Prof. Dr. E. Altinsoy from the TU Dresden.
Robert Kretschmer | Chemistry
It is hard to imagine today’s society without synthetic polymers and the demand continues to increase from year to year. Unfortunately, plastics are not recycled to the extent that they should be and often end up in landfill sites, and polluting the environment and the world’s oceans, where they degrade extremely slowly. This leads to the formation of the very smallest plastic particles which enter our water cycles through washing synthetic fibres, for example. From there, they find their way into human and animal organisms and have even been detected in the Arctic.

But how are microplastics dispersed via global air currents and can they be detected in places to where they couldn’t have been transported by water? To answer these questions, we will take samples from different glaciers at a range of altitudes and in varying weather conditions. In other words, we will take ice and snow samples and analyse if, what quantities and what type of microplastics can be identified. To this end, the melted samples will be filtered through an extremely fine filter and the residues qualitatively and quantitatively analysed using cutting-edge spectroscopic methods.

Martin-Immanuel Bittner | Medizin
In spring 2020, we will embark on a journey to Ecuador to answer central questions from biogeography, ecology, physics, chemistry, climate sciences, computer science, musicology and medicine. It is vitally important that the perception of these changes and their consequences for the local population features in any measurements and assessments of the changing climate. The impact of climate change varies markedly depending on the region and group, where adverse effects often disproportionally affect already disadvantaged groups. For this reason, we will conduct interviews with people in the expedition area with the primary objective of studying the assumptions and experiences of the local population. We will then formulate basic hypotheses from the results of these interviews and relate them to each other. This approach enables us to identify shared issues and perceptions of climate change and its impact on personal health which would not be possible using a quantitative approach. Furthermore, an interview study gives us the opportunity to gain crucial additional insights which can supplement the other expedition participants’ inquiries – e.g. the measurements on a glacier can be enriched by the observations of the people living there, which can offer deeper and more relevant insights.
Dirk Pflüger | Informatik
In the age of digitalisation, big data and AI, we can collect and analyse data in quantities and qualities which were previously unimaginable. Using present-day technology, data which would have taken weeks to compile in Humboldt’s day can now be collected (semi)automatically in just hours or days.  And data collection means that now, perhaps more than ever before, research is not over when scientists leave the field, but is really just beginning. The interdisciplinary focus of our expedition gives us the opportunity to collect a diverse range of data from widely varying sources: from microplastics in ice, insect biodiversity and species composition to interview studies and high-resolution audio and image data. For me, there are two central questions. On the one hand, I am interested in what type of information we can extract from the data, using algorithms from machine learning for example. The fusion of data from such diverse sources as on our expedition has the potential to bring considerable added value. On the other hand, I would like to explore ways to invite other researchers and the public to virtually visit the stops on our expedition afterwards and help them be part of it.
Ricarda Winkelmann | Physik
Although Ecuador is not among the main contributors to climate change (Ecuador is currently responsible for around 0.1 to 0.2% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions), the consequences of anthropogenic climate change are particularly drastic here. One of these consequences: Ecuador could lose two of its seven glaciers over the next few years. This has far-reaching consequences for the water supply, humidity and local ecosystems. But what impact does the increased melt and glacier retreat have on the people, animals and plants in the region? This is one of the questions which we will investigate on the Expedition Anthropocene. Alongside climate change, human activity also has other serious consequences such as the ever greater amounts of synthetic materials produced which end up in the atmosphere and ocean. Microplastic particles have already been detected all over the world, from the Arctic to the Antarctic. Will we also find microplastics in the snow and ice cover at over 4000 metres above sea level?
Christian Hof | Biology
On the Die Junge Akademie expedition, I will focus in particular on the question of how the diversity and complexity of species communities vary between anthropogenic and natural habitats at different altitudes. A range of qualitative and quantitative methods (habitat structure characterisation, climatic measurements, light trapping nocturnal and crepuscular winged insects, image-based analysis of biodiversity and species composition etc.) will be used to collect data. Biodiversity research is inextricably linked to names such as Alexander von Humboldt, Charles Darwin or Alfred Russel Wallace, but particularly to their voyages to explore the flora and fauna in remote regions. The insights into biogeography, evolution and ecology gained from the expeditions of the early biodiversity researchers still shape our understanding of the biosphere today.

Inspired by the explicitly integrative nature of Humboldt’s journeys, a modern, interdisciplinary expedition offers exciting opportunities to address topical questions such as the ecology of global change. Key topics include the transitions in flora, fauna and ecosystem structure based on historical comparison and the characterisation of the impact of human activity on previously natural ecosystems, e.g. through determining factors such as land use, environmental pollution and climate change.

Miriam Akkermann | Musicology
In this project, I will make field recordings which will be used to create sound profiles. I will then investigate and work creatively with these sound profiles in the context of acoustic ecology. Acoustic ecology is based on the World Soundscape Project founded by Murray Schafer at the end of the 1960s, which aimed to draw attention to the sonic environment. In Ecuador, I will use a range of recording formats to make field recordings of glacier regions as well as areas of the Llanganates National Park. The research questions include: Which human-induced sounds can be heard? How does the soundscape change depending on the altitude? Are there sounds, from animals for example, which are seldom heard or unexpected (location, activity time, expression etc.)? In addition, I plan to make sound recordings inside boreholes in the ice where specific sound events can be triggered, recorded and analysed. The central question is: What information can be recorded using simple audio measurements? This project is carried out in collaboration with Prof. Dr. E. Altinsoy from the TU Dresden.
Robert Kretschmer | Chemistry
It is hard to imagine today’s society without synthetic polymers and the demand continues to increase from year to year. Unfortunately, plastics are not recycled to the extent that they should be and often end up in landfill sites, and polluting the environment and the world’s oceans, where they degrade extremely slowly. This leads to the formation of the very smallest plastic particles which enter our water cycles through washing synthetic fibres, for example. From there, they find their way into human and animal organisms and have even been detected in the Arctic.

But how are microplastics dispersed via global air currents and can they be detected in places to where they couldn’t have been transported by water? To answer these questions, we will take samples from different glaciers at a range of altitudes and in varying weather conditions. In other words, we will take ice and snow samples and analyse if, what quantities and what type of microplastics can be identified. To this end, the melted samples will be filtered through an extremely fine filter and the residues qualitatively and quantitatively analysed using cutting-edge spectroscopic methods.

One of the focal points of the expedition is climate change and its consequences for the environment as well as the transition of a region over the past 200 years. In this, humans are consistently viewed as the instigators, those affected and the observers of these events.

FAQ

We are six scientists from six different disciplines, soon to embark on a trip to Ecuador. Following in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt, we will use the modern instruments of our time in dialogue with local scientists to pursue three key questions related to the wider topic “Research in the Anthropocene”. 1) Climate and sound profiles: Which changes in soil condition, climate parameters, sounds, flora and fauna can be observed or heard at different altitudes and how are these reflected in sound profiles? 2) Concerns and perceptions of climate change: How are climatic changes such as glacial retreat or the increased frequency of extreme weather events perceived, and particularly their relevance for personal health and livelihoods? 3) Research in the Anthropocene: How does modern science work? How does interdisciplinary collaboration take shape? One of the focal points of the expedition is climate change and its consequences for the environment as well as the transition of a region over the past 200 years. In this, humans are consistently viewed as the instigators, those affected and the observers of these events.
Anthropocene is a proposed term for a new geochronological epoch. Taken from the Ancient Greek, ánthropos means “human” and kainós “new”. The Anthropocene is therefore a new geological age which is defined by human influence. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago, humans have intervened in the biological, geological and atmospheric processes so significantly that humans have become the major influencing factor on Earth.
After carefully weighing up several potential destinations for the expedition, we opted for Ecuador. The access to multiple climatic zones including high mountain ranges with glaciers and volcanoes, tropical rain forest and high plains was the deciding factor. Due to the local geography, a rich diversity of zones unlike anything we could find in Europe are accessible by car in just a few hours. Moreover, the region is well connected. In light of our interdisciplinary research approach and central questions, this opens up a wide research field for us. Another decisive factor was the connection to Alexander von Humboldt’s expedition to the Americas. Over 200 years ago, Humboldt was already interested in the impact of humans on the environment. His ascent of Chimborazo is legendary, and the data he collected there, for example the descriptions of different vegetation zones, serves as an important basis for comparison in our research projects.
Die Junge Akademie was founded in 2000 as the world’s first academy for outstanding young academics. It is supported by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The academy consistently has 50 members, where ten members leave and ten new members are elected each year. The members of Die Junge Akademie come from a wide range of academic backgrounds – ranging from humanities and social sciences to natural sciences and engineering to the arts. The members share an interest in interdisciplinary work. They explore the potential and limits of interdisciplinary work in new projects, aim to encourage dialogue between academia and society, and provide new impetus in discussions about scientific policy. The interdisciplinary diversity of Die Junge Akademie is also reflected in our expedition team, where musicology, biology, chemistry, physics, medicine and computer science are represented. The exchange and collaboration between the members of Die Junge Akademie primarily takes place digitally and is formally organised in a thrice-yearly plenum. In the case of the interdisciplinary project “Expedition Anthropocene”, two of the expedition members presented their idea at the 2019 spring plenum. Other members showed interest in the project and reworked the concept together before applying for the necessary budget in the autumn plenum in 2019. As the optimal season for the project ends in spring, there was not a lot of time left to prepare. Of course, this places certain limitations on the project from the outset, but we are sure it will not prevent us from collecting excellent results regardless.  The topic blocks and our personal presentations offer a closer look at the different disciplines and interdisciplinary points of contact.
We are approaching the project with a positive outlook. On the one hand, we are intrigued by the geographic conditions and the data we will collect in the field, and by the results which follow. On the other hand, we are interested in the team dynamic, the different approaches and the fresh perspectives and inspiration we can offer each other in such an interdisciplinary team. We want to learn from each other and observe ourselves and each other to gain insights into the question of how modern interdisciplinary research can work. We have taken great care in the project planning and hope to be able to use the days there effectively. We also hope to document our activities in our blog. In this, we are heavily reliant on various factors such as the weather and access to electricity and internet. These are problems which we have factored into the planning as much as possible. However, every expedition also brings the unexpected, even if an undertaking of this kind can be better planned and prepared today than Humboldt could in the past. We are prepared for the eventuality that we need to respond spontaneously to the conditions there and change our plans accordingly.
While it is possible to experience and research a huge range of landscapes within a relatively small area in Ecuador, it is not possible to fit everything into a seventeen-day expedition. On top of this, the acclimatisation process brings its own limitations which do not stop us taking day trips, but require us to spend several nights in Quito in accordance with the maxim “climb high, sleep low”. For this reason, day trips to different glaciers around Quito are planned for the first few days. They give us the opportunity to take samples at different altitudes and in different weather conditions. Chimborazo remains of course a special destination in our research. Lastly, our stay in the Llanganates National Park enables us to research a complementary vegetation zone. Here, the spotlight is primarily on biodiversity, though the sounds and microplastics present will also be studied.
Yes, we have links to local people and institutions with whom we were in active contact prior to the expedition. We will meet some of them in Ecuador to discuss our project and results and explore possibilities to work together in the future. Alongside our research plans, we also question the extent to which we, as Europeans, view topics from a different perspective and even consider different topics to be important compared to the people who live and/or research there. For this reason, we consider direct exchange and collaboration with local players to be vital in a project of this kind.
We are all members of Die Junge Akademie. Interdisciplinarity is a fundamental focus of the academy, included in its constitution. The members share an interest in interdisciplinary work and the interdisciplinary approach is one of the core aspects of our project. We also want to address the question of how modern research in the Anthropocene – which ultimately has to be interdisciplinary – can work, and what advantages and challenges it entails. On the other hand, there are also pragmatic advantages of undertaking an expedition as a group. For example, you need your partners on a glacier as it is barely possible to cope with so much equipment alone.
From 1799 to 1804, Alexander von Humboldt travelled around the Americans on a private research expedition with the French botanist Aimé Bonpland. They devoted over six months to exploring the area around Quito. His ascent of Chimborazo, which was then thought to be the highest mountain in the world, was particularly ground-breaking. Humboldt used the cutting-edge scientific instruments of his time to take barometric and trigonometric measurements and to study the flora and fauna. Essai sur la géographie des plantes, in which he lays out his ideas on vegetation geography, is one of his most well-known scientific contributions. The essay focuses on the changes in the vegetation composition depending on the altitude.

Alexander von Humboldt also described the key functions and significance of the forest for the climate. He observed that human interventions such as excessive deforestation or the diversion of water courses can have a negative impact on the water balance and the climate, thereby describing the nature of the Anthropocene and climate change long before these would be established as terms. Our expedition concept is based on this approach and the natural scientist Humboldt, with his universal approach and unwavering commitment to research, has lost none of his fascination for modern scientists.

The members of Die Junge Akademie lay great emphasis on the question of climate change and minimising CO2 emissions. Among other things, they recently published the statement “Reimburse the actual cost of travel! For a rethinking of official trips in academia” and organised the Visions/Solutions sustainability competition. Moreover, our research trip focuses on climate change and its impact on the environment. Of course, we have been very critical in our discussions of the project and travel destination – not only against this backdrop. We came to the decision to stick with the expedition destination as the plans made possible through the local geography in Ecuador cannot be implemented in Europe or destinations reached by train or similar transportation method. We will compensate the CO2 emitted through our flights and journeys in Ecuador.
Our work in Ecuador is based on science-led hypotheses and expectations. Beyond this, we are aware that we should expect the unexpected on this kind of expedition. We are therefore completely open to new perspectives, insights and results. We see the journey as its own reward, and are curious to see how the collaboration impacts the performance of the experiments and of course the results. We will discuss and share the results with our local contacts and potential partners for future projects, and we will also make the results available to the public.
We are six scientists from six different disciplines, soon to embark on a trip to Ecuador. Following in the footsteps of Alexander von Humboldt, we will use the modern instruments of our time in dialogue with local scientists to pursue three key questions related to the wider topic “Research in the Anthropocene”. 1) Climate and sound profiles: Which changes in soil condition, climate parameters, sounds, flora and fauna can be observed or heard at different altitudes and how are these reflected in sound profiles? 2) Concerns and perceptions of climate change: How are climatic changes such as glacial retreat or the increased frequency of extreme weather events perceived, and particularly their relevance for personal health and livelihoods? 3) Research in the Anthropocene: How does modern science work? How does interdisciplinary collaboration take shape? One of the focal points of the expedition is climate change and its consequences for the environment as well as the transition of a region over the past 200 years. In this, humans are consistently viewed as the instigators, those affected and the observers of these events.
Anthropocene is a proposed term for a new geochronological epoch. Taken from the Ancient Greek, ánthropos means “human” and kainós “new”. The Anthropocene is therefore a new geological age which is defined by human influence. Since the start of the Industrial Revolution around 200 years ago, humans have intervened in the biological, geological and atmospheric processes so significantly that humans have become the major influencing factor on Earth.
After carefully weighing up several potential destinations for the expedition, we opted for Ecuador. The access to multiple climatic zones including high mountain ranges with glaciers and volcanoes, tropical rain forest and high plains was the deciding factor. Due to the local geography, a rich diversity of zones unlike anything we could find in Europe are accessible by car in just a few hours. Moreover, the region is well connected. In light of our interdisciplinary research approach and central questions, this opens up a wide research field for us. Another decisive factor was the connection to Alexander von Humboldt’s expedition to the Americas. Over 200 years ago, Humboldt was already interested in the impact of humans on the environment. His ascent of Chimborazo is legendary, and the data he collected there, for example the descriptions of different vegetation zones, serves as an important basis for comparison in our research projects.
Die Junge Akademie was founded in 2000 as the world’s first academy for outstanding young academics. It is supported by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. The academy consistently has 50 members, where ten members leave and ten new members are elected each year. The members of Die Junge Akademie come from a wide range of academic backgrounds – ranging from humanities and social sciences to natural sciences and engineering to the arts. The members share an interest in interdisciplinary work. They explore the potential and limits of interdisciplinary work in new projects, aim to encourage dialogue between academia and society, and provide new impetus in discussions about scientific policy. The interdisciplinary diversity of Die Junge Akademie is also reflected in our expedition team, where musicology, biology, chemistry, physics, medicine and computer science are represented. The exchange and collaboration between the members of Die Junge Akademie primarily takes place digitally and is formally organised in a thrice-yearly plenum. In the case of the interdisciplinary project “Expedition Anthropocene”, two of the expedition members presented their idea at the 2019 spring plenum. Other members showed interest in the project and reworked the concept together before applying for the necessary budget in the autumn plenum in 2019. As the optimal season for the project ends in spring, there was not a lot of time left to prepare. Of course, this places certain limitations on the project from the outset, but we are sure it will not prevent us from collecting excellent results regardless.  The topic blocks and our personal presentations offer a closer look at the different disciplines and interdisciplinary points of contact.
We are approaching the project with a positive outlook. On the one hand, we are intrigued by the geographic conditions and the data we will collect in the field, and by the results which follow. On the other hand, we are interested in the team dynamic, the different approaches and the fresh perspectives and inspiration we can offer each other in such an interdisciplinary team. We want to learn from each other and observe ourselves and each other to gain insights into the question of how modern interdisciplinary research can work. We have taken great care in the project planning and hope to be able to use the days there effectively. We also hope to document our activities in our blog. In this, we are heavily reliant on various factors such as the weather and access to electricity and internet. These are problems which we have factored into the planning as much as possible. However, every expedition also brings the unexpected, even if an undertaking of this kind can be better planned and prepared today than Humboldt could in the past. We are prepared for the eventuality that we need to respond spontaneously to the conditions there and change our plans accordingly.
While it is possible to experience and research a huge range of landscapes within a relatively small area in Ecuador, it is not possible to fit everything into a seventeen-day expedition. On top of this, the acclimatisation process brings its own limitations which do not stop us taking day trips, but require us to spend several nights in Quito in accordance with the maxim “climb high, sleep low”. For this reason, day trips to different glaciers around Quito are planned for the first few days. They give us the opportunity to take samples at different altitudes and in different weather conditions. Chimborazo remains of course a special destination in our research. Lastly, our stay in the Llanganates National Park enables us to research a complementary vegetation zone. Here, the spotlight is primarily on biodiversity, though the sounds and microplastics present will also be studied.
We are all members of Die Junge Akademie. Interdisciplinarity is a fundamental focus of the academy, included in its constitution. The members share an interest in interdisciplinary work and the interdisciplinary approach is one of the core aspects of our project. We also want to address the question of how modern research in the Anthropocene – which ultimately has to be interdisciplinary – can work, and what advantages and challenges it entails. On the other hand, there are also pragmatic advantages of undertaking an expedition as a group. For example, you need your partners on a glacier as it is barely possible to cope with so much equipment alone.
Yes, we have links to local people and institutions with whom we were in active contact prior to the expedition. We will meet some of them in Ecuador to discuss our project and results and explore possibilities to work together in the future. Alongside our research plans, we also question the extent to which we, as Europeans, view topics from a different perspective and even consider different topics to be important compared to the people who live and/or research there. For this reason, we consider direct exchange and collaboration with local players to be vital in a project of this kind.
From 1799 to 1804, Alexander von Humboldt travelled around the Americans on a private research expedition with the French botanist Aimé Bonpland. They devoted over six months to exploring the area around Quito. His ascent of Chimborazo, which was then thought to be the highest mountain in the world, was particularly ground-breaking. Humboldt used the cutting-edge scientific instruments of his time to take barometric and trigonometric measurements and to study the flora and fauna. Essai sur la géographie des plantes, in which he lays out his ideas on vegetation geography, is one of his most well-known scientific contributions. The essay focuses on the changes in the vegetation composition depending on the altitude.

Alexander von Humboldt also described the key functions and significance of the forest for the climate. He observed that human interventions such as excessive deforestation or the diversion of water courses can have a negative impact on the water balance and the climate, thereby describing the nature of the Anthropocene and climate change long before these would be established as terms. Our expedition concept is based on this approach and the natural scientist Humboldt, with his universal approach and unwavering commitment to research, has lost none of his fascination for modern scientists.

The members of Die Junge Akademie lay great emphasis on the question of climate change and minimising CO2 emissions. Among other things, they recently published the statement “Reimburse the actual cost of travel! For a rethinking of official trips in academia” and organised the Visions/Solutions sustainability competition. Moreover, our research trip focuses on climate change and its impact on the environment. Of course, we have been very critical in our discussions of the project and travel destination – not only against this backdrop. We came to the decision to stick with the expedition destination as the plans made possible through the local geography in Ecuador cannot be implemented in Europe or destinations reached by train or similar transportation method. We will compensate the CO2 emitted through our flights and journeys in Ecuador.
Our work in Ecuador is based on science-led hypotheses and expectations. Beyond this, we are aware that we should expect the unexpected on this kind of expedition. We are therefore completely open to new perspectives, insights and results. We see the journey as its own reward, and are curious to see how the collaboration impacts the performance of the experiments and of course the results. We will discuss and share the results with our local contacts and potential partners for future projects, and we will also make the results available to the public.

Contact

darkgreendots

Die Junge Akademie

Die Junge Akademie is the first academy of young academics worldwide; offering prominent young scientists and artists, from German speaking backgrounds, interdisciplinary and socially relevant space for academic collaboration.

The academy was founded in 2000 as a collaborative project of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BBAW) and the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina. Since then, Die Junge Akademie has developed into a model organization and inspiration for similar initiatives worldwide.

Yvonne Borchert
Academic Co-ordinator Projects and RGs

Phone: (030) 203 70 263

Email: borchert@diejungeakademie.de

Anne Rohloff
Academic Co-ordinator, Public Relations

Phone: (030) 203 70 563

Email: rohloff@diejungeakademie.de