Deborah Coen

Science in Context, 2009


What, if anything, uniquely defines the mountain as a “laboratory of nature”? Here, this question is considered from the perspective of meteorology. Mountains played a central role in the early history of modern meteorology. The first permanent year-round high-altitude weather stations were built in the 1880s but largely fell out of use by the turn of the twentieth century, not to be revived until the 1930s. This paper considers the unlikely survival of the Sonnblick observatory (3105 m.) in the Austrian Alps. By examining the arguments of the Sonnblick’s critics and defenders, it reveals a seemingly paradoxical definition of the mountain as a space that simultaneously maximized isolation and communication. Drawing on the social and environmental history of the Alps, it shows how the Sonnblick came to appear as the perfect embodiment of this paradox.

View the paper hereThe Storm Lab: Meteorology in the Austrian Alps