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At the Top of High Altitude Research: Two Young Researchers Awarded the 2021 Quervain Prize

Discovery of the oldest high-altitude village in the world, situated at a dizzying 3500 m, and melting snows and glaciers of Monte Rosa – the two young researchers Alexander Groos and Enrico Mattea are awarded the 2021 Quervain Prize from the Swiss Committee on Polar and High Altitude Research of the Swiss Academies of Sciences, for their excellent research relating to high mountain.

Alexander Groos / Enrico Mattea
Image: S. Erlwein / E. Mattea

In the context of his doctoral thesis at the University of Bern, Alexander Groos worked with researchers from Addis Ababa University in Ethiopia and other European universities to investigate the environmental, climatic and human history of the Bale Mountains, situated in the heart of the Ethiopian highlands. The results of this research show that these tropical mountains underwent a major glaciation period from 40,000 to 30,000 years ago, considerably cooling down in the process. The researchers discovered the oldest known high-mountain village in the world, at an altitude of almost 3500 metres and located near what were, at the time, valley glaciers. The meltwater from the glaciers was probably an essential resource for the Stone Age hunters who settled in the Bale Mountains 45,000 to 30,000 years ago, explains Alexander Groos.

In his master's thesis at the University of Fribourg, carried out in collaboration with the University of Uppsala (Sweden) and the ARPA Piedmont Agency (Italy), Enrico Mattea focused on the recent evolution of the Colle Gnifetti glacier (4450m) in the Monte Rosa massif. Due to the presence of the oldest ice in the Alps (dating back about 19,000 years), this mountain is perfectly suited to research on ice cores, allowing the climate of the last millennia to be traced. Even at this altitude, Enrico Mattea shows that this environmental archive is threatened by global warming. Using numerical models and data from high-mountain measuring stations, Enrico Mattea was able to calculate in detail the main energy and mass flows at Colle Gnifetti. This shows that even at this altitude, melting snow is of increased importance for the mass and energy balance of these Alpine glaciers.

The 2021 Quervain Prize will be awarded on 18 November at the Alpine Museum in Bern by the Swiss Committee for Polar and High Altitude Research (SKPH) of the Swiss Academies of Sciences, in collaboration with the Jungfraujoch Commission of the Swiss Academy of Natural Sciences and the Foundation for Alpine Research. The Quervain Prize is awarded annually and alternates between polar and high-altitude research. It is open to young researchers (up to the age of 35) who have submitted a master's or diploma thesis, a dissertation or other research.


  • Cryosphere
  • High altitude research