In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Mountain Geography

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Professional Organizations
  • Journals
  • Regional Mountain Geographies
  • Mountain Meteorology and Climate
  • Contemporary Climate Change
  • Natural Hazards
  • Cultural Geographies
  • Mountain Sustainable Development
  • Landscape Management
  • Mountain Politics and Conflict
  • Human Impact on Fragile Mountain Ecosystems
  • Mountain Tourism and Amenity Migration

Geography Mountain Geography
Lynn Resler, Fausto Sarmiento
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 April 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0129


Mountain geographies address the study of mountain landscapes and systems from a spatial approach. Although the term “mountain geography” is also used, here we pluralize the phrase to emphasize the different approaches that, geographically, allow us to understand mountains. Mountains are entities of difficult characterization. As ecoregions they incorporate verticality as the main discriminant factor to organize their function and tri-dimensionality. They can be found not only on land, but also underneath the oceans, amidst cities, along faults, in faraway islands—even on other planets. Mountains are also landscapes found in the imagination of people who celebrate their sacred identity, or in the construction of the elevated grounds that hold what is dear to their hearts, so as to keep them protected and preserved in a constantly changing world. Thus, to better understand mountains and their metaphors, new geographies of conservation use a comprehensive, holistic approach to integrate many disciplines into a transdisciplinary science of mountain studies, or montology. In the past, disciplinary lines separated mountain biomes, mountain communities, even mountain edifices by way of specialized sciences, including botany, zoology, sociology, anthropology, geomorphology, and biogeography. Now, the integration of processes affecting mountain landscapes requires a new conceptualization of mountains from the geographies of development, sustainability, critical biogeography, political ecology, and climate change. As a result, mountain geography has evolved over time as an independent, yet composite discipline that fuses theory, method, and data from both the sciences and the humanities. Thus, the approaches, training, and emphases of mountain geographers vary. This bibliography synthesizes a sample of influential work, primarily from the geographic tradition, that has contributed to our broad understanding of mountain geographies as physical systems, as social constructs, as home and habitat to plants and animals, and as synonyms of the wild, majestic, rugged, and insurmountable.

General Overviews

As noted in Debarbieux and Price 2008, the geographies of mountains encompass many fields within physical, human, and geospatial geography. “Mountains for whom” requires historicity and political ecology analysis of power relations to understand the construction of the idealized mountains. “Mountains for what” requires geomorphology, geology, and resource economic analysis of mineral ores and distribution of raw materials to understand the structure of the objectivized mountains. “Mountains for where” requires descriptive socioeconomic approaches to landscape ecology, biogeography, and other spatial analyses. A good starting place for such understanding is the comprehensive review Funnell and Price 2003. Soffer 1982 offered the first comprehensive article discussing the progression of the discipline of mountain studies and was followed by Smethurst 2000 at the beginning of the 21st century. It is clear from Messerli 2012 that amidst global environmental change dynamics, mountain science has become comprehensive, integrative, and participatory, despite the need to maintain and cultivate the specificities that make mountain research an appealing frontier of field studies, as suggested by Ives 2013. Meybeck, et al. 2001 uses GISscience and geovisualization applications to formally represent and define mountainscapes. Zimmerer and Bell 2015 provides a current overview of the humanized Andean landscape and the need to consider regional landscape connectivity to strengthen resilience to climate change.

  • Debarbieux, Bernard, and Martin F. Price. “Representing Mountains: From Local and National to Global Common Good.” Geopolitics 13 (2008): 148–168.

    DOI: 10.1080/14650040701783375

    Provides an interpretation of the political forces behind the conceptualization of mountains and how they are represented throughout different scales, from the planetary level of global concerns, through the ecoregional level of mostly watershed defined boundaries, to the localized level of immediate survival.

  • Funnell, Don C., and Martin F. Price. “Mountain Geography: A Review.” Geographical Journal 169.3 (2003): 183–190.

    DOI: 10.1111/1475-4959.00083

    Provides an in-depth look at mountain geography and the importance of mountains as a physical stature on the global scale of politics involving development and environment.

  • Ives, Jack. Sustainable Mountain Development: Getting the Facts Right. Lalitpur, Nepal: Himalayan Association for the Advancement of Science, 2013.

    In a rather autobiographical fashion of professional accomplishments, mountain geographer Ives provides an in-depth account of how the main gains of institutional organization have worked during the recent decades. By using the example of his work in the Himalayas, he claims the need of getting the correct, factual information on mountain protection.

  • Messerli, Bruno. “Global Change and the World’s Mountains: Where Are We Coming From, and Where Are We Going To?” Mountain Research and Development 32.S1 (2012): s55–s63.

    DOI: 10.1659/MRD-JOURNAL-D-11-00118.S1

    Messerli looks at mountain geography amidst the recent developments of global climate change theory and the institutional array generated by global change governance and funding priorities. Foretelling the need to be more active on mountain research applied to sustainable development, he augurs a brighter future for mountain geography for the study of mountain responses to climate change.

  • Meybeck, Michel, Pamela Green, and Charles Vörösmarty. “A New Typology for Mountains and Other Relief Classes: An Application to Global Continental Water Resources and Population Distribution.” Mountain Research and Development 21.1 (2001): 34–45.

    DOI: 10.1659/0276-4741(2001)021[0034:ANTFMA]2.0.CO;2

    The proverbial difficulty of defining mountains is solved via the use of modern technology of global positioning systems, geographic information sciences, geovisualization, and mapping. The authors provide a definite convention to characterize mountains offering a typology of elevation, slope, and aspect.

  • Smethurst, David. “Mountain Geography.” Geographical Review 90.1 (2000): 35–56.

    Smethurst discusses mountain geography as a body of literature and the evolution of mountain studies. The necessity for expanding mountain geography, as a field of study and development tool, will relieve absent knowledge of the cultural, political, and environmental limits of little-known mountain terrains.

  • Soffer, Arnon. “Mountain Geography: A New Approach.” Mountain Research and Development (1982): 391–398.

    Soffer analyzes the factors that determine the reasons for neglect in the research and study of mountain regions. The ideal model for the study of mountain regions includes a series of zones or belts that provide a generic region of approach for scientific research.

  • Zimmerer, Karl S., and Martha G. Bell. “Time for Change: The Legacy of a Euro-Andean Model of Landscape versus the Need for Landscape Connectivity.” Landscape and Urban Planning 139 (2015): 104–116.

    DOI: 10.1016/j.landurbplan.2015.02.002

    The recognition of humanized landscapes as being prevalent in the tropical Andes helps to explain their high socio-ecological diversity. Criticizing the valley-upland landscape model that emerged with European conquest and framed Western ideas of binaries of settlement/unsettlement and civilization/barbarism that favored dispossession of indigenous lands, they claim that this model is currently incongruous with the need of landscape connectivity to strengthen resilience for climate change.

back to top

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.

How to Subscribe

Oxford Bibliographies Online is available by subscription and perpetual access to institutions. For more information or to contact an Oxford Sales Representative click here.