September 30, 2023


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Blandin Ploshette: “Scanning the Mountains”: Marvel and Understand – Culture

Blandin Ploshette: “Scanning the Mountains”: Marvel and Understand – Culture

One should not deceive oneself: for contrary to what one might think, one does not escape people in the High Mountains dimension. There is not in particular: in the Jungfraujoch, for example, aerosol measurements are regularly taken, from which conclusions can be drawn regarding the extent to which individual European countries adhere to the agreements of the Paris climate protection agreement. Regarding this aspect, you can see large parts of the continent from Jungfraujoch.

Blandin Ploshette is fascinated by such stories. She graduated with a degree in physics over twenty years ago, and if her original plan worked out, she might now also be a researcher working in and with the mountains. However, her application for a doctoral position at the Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research in Garmisch-Partenkirchen was rejected at the time. Then Ploshette became a writer.

Physicist Hannes Vogelmann uses lasers to conduct atmospheric research on the Zugspitze.

(Photo: Laetitia Locteau (illustration) / Flammarion, Paris)

Nevertheless, Ploshette writes in the preface to Measuring Mountains: “Physics remained, and I provided the material for my books.” This is especially true of this address. The search for this, which she started with a climbing tour in the Bavarian Alps with a good friend, reconnected her again with the mountains. “I wanted to learn more about the mountains. I had to get to know these mountains better, which whispered their history in my ear. No longer as a hiker, but as a physicist.” For a year she continued to meet scientists, mostly in the Alps, but also in the Pyrenees, the Apennines, the Massif Central and the Harz, as well as in her native western France. The first path led the author to Garmisch-Partenkirchen, to the institute, which she did not want to enter at that time.

Here she meets Hannes Vogelmann, who is doing atmospheric research on the Zugspitze with the help of a laser beam. This is a very practical physics, which Plochet loves, too: she is interested in science, she writes, “that looks at the world, that looks at the wind, the earth or the sky, and physics that explores the outside.” Physics exposes itself to the elements.

Mountains act as an early warning system for climate changes

Your book Measuring Mountains is not a work of science, and as a reader you don’t need any experience, just curiosity and openness. Then you can go on extraordinary walks with Blandine Pluchet and look at the mountains from a very special and very luminous vantage point.

In some cases, mountains are suitable for research that has nothing to do with the mountains themselves. Far from civilization and thus far from disturbing influences that falsify measurement results, insights can be gained there, for example about environmental pollution and climate changes. In this respect, the mountains act as an early warning system. However, in other cases, the mountain range itself can be better understood with the help of physics. Then there are a number of wonderful phenomena that one can find themselves exposed to in the high mountains – and for which there is always a physical explanation.

Blandin Ploshette: "clear mountains"Mountains are crucial to the weather.

Mountains are a determining factor for the weather.

(Photo: Laetitia Locteau (illustration) / Flammarion, Paris)

Blandin Ploshette talked to Hannes Vogelmann about St. Elmo’s fire, halos and patterns – all light phenomena associated with electrical charges in the air. And they talk about the ghost of the piece, an optical phenomenon that has become the subject of epics and legends. However, there is a scientific explanation as well: the ghost of the piece is nothing but the extended shadow of the person who sees this supposed ghost. Depending on the position of the sun and the height of the fog banks or clouds, this phenomenon can occur, not only in Brocken, but frequently there due to the conditions.

The attractive thing about “Measuring Mountains” is that Blandin Ploshette doesn’t progress in a fantastically anatomical fashion. She is not interested in disappointment. The desire to understand certain phenomena and connections increases their enthusiasm and curiosity. For example, there are explanations why you can see the depth of space more clearly in high mountains and why “the three-dimensionality of the landscape appears more clearly than anywhere else” – this is due to the greater distances and the fact that the air there contains less moisture and dust. However, this knowledge in no way diminishes the fascination this visual impression arouses.

Blandin Ploshette: "clear mountains": Blandin Plochet: Surveying the Mountains.  Rise to discover the laws of the world.  Translated from the French by Rainer Pfleider.  Bergwelten Verlag, Salzburg/Munich 2023. 216 pages, €28.

Blandin Plochet: Surveying the Mountains. Rise to discover the laws of the world. Translated from the French by Rainer Pfleider. Bergwelten Verlag, Salzburg/Munich 2023. 216 pages, €28.

(Photo: Bergwelten Verlag)

Retaining her capacity for admiration, the author allows herself to be moved and seduced by the alpine landscape, looking for moments of power. Hence getting to the bottom of things over and over again. For example, based on the appearance of a particular flower – the Bohemian yellow star – which only grows where two geological regions meet, granite and limestone, I was able to conclude that there is a mountain range in northwest France, though never in any significant extent has been detected. Link.

The development of knowledge means that one is more impressed the more connections one learns about or is explained. On your own, you will not (be able to) realize many things. By the way, Blandin Ploshette has repeatedly discovered that those who make observations in the dark learn and experience a lot.

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