While the concept "mountain" exists in every language, the perception of where a mountain begins has always varied between flat areas and rugged areas (different criteria are used in Switzerland than in Ireland to determine a mountain). GEOSPECS had to apply a uniform definition for the ESPON space.
The project found that 41% of the ESPON space are mountainous, whereas 25% of population live in mountain areas.
The delineation of mountains used for GEOSPECS builds on previous work for the European Commission (Nordregio et al., 2004) and the European Environment Agency (EEA, 2010) using the criteria of altitude, slope, and terrain roughness, derived from a digital elevation model (DEM). This approach recognises the need for more stringent criteria at lower altitudes. These criteria were applied for each kilometre square (grid cell) of the ESPON space to delineate it as mountainous or non-mountainous.
A key issue recognised in the report for the European Commission (2004) was the influence of urban areas close to mountains and in mountains, for flows in two directions: of commuters to the urban centres; and of people from the urban areas for recreation. The map shows the relationships between urban areas and mountains. For relatively narrow mountain massifs, particularly those of the Central European middle mountains, almost entire massifs are within commuting distance of urban areas. This also applies to large proportions of the northern Alps and much of the Apennines, Sicily, and the Slovak Carpathians. Nevertheless, it is notable that 28% of the population of the Alps, and 16% of the Apennines is not within commuting distance of any such centre.
An important issue relating to both the quality of life and the potential for economic development, particularly through tourism, is the availability of airports. Due to the challenges of the terrain - for both flight and landing - airports in mountain areas tend to be limited, so that mountain inhabitants often have to travel outside the mountains to an airport. For the mountain inhabitants of Europe as a whole, 69% do not have access to an airport within 45 minutes, compared to 43% of those living outside mountains. The graph below shows these relationships at the national scale. In almost all countries, access to an airport for mountain inhabitants is less than the national average; the exceptions are Bulgaria and Hungary, where part or all of the national capital region is in an LAU2 defined as mountain. Only in two countries does more than half of the mountain population have access to an airport within 45 minutes: Belgium and Switzerland - the former because the mountains are small, and the latter because of particularly good transportation systems. Differences between mountain and non-mountain populations are particularly large in Portugal (13 vs. 44%), Slovakia (8 vs. 20%), Norway (10 vs. 29%), Romania (7 vs. 17%), Germany (34 vs. 62%), and Italy (34 vs. 62%). However, these figures also show the difference in provision of airports between the newer and older states of the EU.
These findings are just some samples from the extensive quantitative analysis that was undertaken for GEOSPECS. The entire analysis can be found in the Draft Final Scientific Report, downloadable on the ESPON website.