A programme targeting early-career researchers from the polar and high-altitude science communities in Switzerland and Australia.
The Mertz Fellowship for polar and high-altitude research is a collaboration between Switzerland Australia.
The Embassy of Switzerland in Australia, with the support of the Swiss Polar Institute, launched the Mertz Fellowship programme to promote linkages between Swiss and Australian higher education and research institutions through scientific networking and joint projects. The programme targets early-career researchers from the polar and high-altitude science communities in Switzerland and Australia.
Hear from past Mertz Fellow Melissa Gerwin
Climb every mountain: Melissa’s Swiss summer is bearing fruit
Mertz Fellow and high-altitude ecologist Melissa Gerwin is monitoring wild blueberry bushes in the Swiss Alps. But it’s not the fruit she’s after.
“I’m monitoring how different plant species respond to a warming climate,” says Melissa. “Alpine plants are very vulnerable to temperature increases, so it’s really important we understand how to target conservation efforts to prevent plant loss.”
Australia has a relative lack of high-altitude areas, limiting local opportunities for Melissa’s field work. Studying extreme high-altitude contexts is also important for her research, requiring travel to alpine countries.
“Swiss high-altitude researchers have a lot of experience I don’t have access to in Australia,” she says.
“There are a lot of alpine ecologists in Switzerland who are mentoring me to become a better high-altitude scientist.”
Melissa is experiencing three summers in a row – in Tasmania, Switzerland, and Tasmania again – to gather her data. The work involves a lot of time on mountain sides.
“We use an open-top chamber that acts like a mini greenhouse to warm up the plants by about 2 degrees Celsius,” Melissa says. “This simulates temperature rise due to climate change, and then we measure impact on plant growth, via characteristics such as leaf size and how plants interact with each other.”
“In Tasmania, we leave the chambers in place all year, but in Switzerland we assemble in summer once the snow clears,” says Melissa, who is hosted in Switzerland by the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research (WSL) and its specialised Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research.
Melissa’s work is part of a 9-year global research project with 10 data collection sites, including Switzerland, Tasmania, New Zealand, USA and China. “It’s great to have a global context for this research, and build collaborations for future work together,” Melissa says.
The Mertz Fellowship fosters collaboration and networking between Swiss and Australian polar and high-altitude science communities. It is dedicated to PhD students and early-career researchers based in Switzerland and Australia and is supported by the Swiss Polar Institute. Melissa is a PhD candidate at the University of Tasmania.
See other programmes on Head Start Swiss.