Environment

Before & after photos of melting glaciers capture climate change in action

Trift Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 1.17 km (0.7 miles) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
Trift Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 1.17 km (0.7 miles) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
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Qori Kalis Glacier in Peru has retreated by 1.14 km (0.7 miles) between 1978 (left) and 2016 (right)
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Qori Kalis Glacier in Peru has retreated by 1.14 km (0.7 miles) between 1978 (left) and 2016 (right)
Columbia Glacier, Alaska,  has retreated by 6.5 km (4 miles) between 2009 (left) and 2015 (right)
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Columbia Glacier, Alaska,  has retreated by 6.5 km (4 miles) between 2009 (left) and 2015 (right)
Trift Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 1.17 km (0.7 miles) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
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Trift Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 1.17 km (0.7 miles) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
Stein Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 550 m (1,800 ft) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
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Stein Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 550 m (1,800 ft) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
Solheimajokull, Iceland, has retreated by 625 m (2,050 ft) between 2007 (left) and 2015 (right)
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Solheimajokull, Iceland, has retreated by 625 m (2,050 ft) between 2007 (left) and 2015 (right)
Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska, has retreated by 550 m (1,800 ft) between 2007 (left) and 2015 (right)
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Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska, has retreated by 550 m (1,800 ft) between 2007 (left) and 2015 (right)

With the Earth experiencing its hottest year on record in 2016, the evidence for climate change keeps building. But much of this evidence comes in the form of models and statistics, which can be hard for the general public to process. To make it easier to visualize the effects the changing climate is having on the planet, environmental scientists have put together a series of before-and-after photos, highlighting drastic ice loss.

Some of the photos come from the group's collaboration with the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), founded in 2007 with the specific goal of recording the rapid retreat of glaciers. The program has 43 cameras set up to watch over 24 glaciers around the world, snapping a photo every daylight hour of every day. In other cases, the scientists returned to the sites of old photos taken years or decades ago to snap a current shot.

"We have unretouched photographic evidence of glaciers melting all around the globe," says Gregory Baker, lead author of the study. "That includes the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica — they're reduced in size. These aren't fancy computer models or satellite images where you'd have to make all kinds of corrections for the atmosphere. These are simply photos … So it's just straightforward proof of large-scale ice loss around the globe."

Columbia Glacier, Alaska,  has retreated by 6.5 km (4 miles) between 2009 (left) and 2015 (right)
Columbia Glacier, Alaska,  has retreated by 6.5 km (4 miles) between 2009 (left) and 2015 (right)

It's one thing to read that the Columbia Glacier in Alaska has retreated by about 6.5 km (4 miles) between 2009 and 2015, but the impact doesn't really hit home until you can see the difference. Google's Timelapse has captured that massive melt from a satellite's perspective, but seeing it close up is a whole other level of disheartening.

Rising sea levels from melting ice might be one of the major concerns, but it's far from the only run-on effect. Communities that rely on meltwater could find their water supply drying up, and our understanding of Earth's history is in danger too, as we lose the detailed time capsule of environmental data that's been preserved in ice sheets for hundreds of thousands of years.

Stein Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 550 m (1,800 ft) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)
Stein Glacier, Switzerland, has retreated by 550 m (1,800 ft) between 2006 (left) and 2015 (right)

"We have all heard of the impact of melting ice on sea level rise, but the public also need to be aware that places around the world depend on glaciers for their water and are going to come under increasing stress, and we already see how water shortages lead to all kinds of conflict," says Baker. "The other critical point often overlooked is that when glaciers melt we're losing these scientific archive records of past climate change at specific locations around the Earth, as if someone came in and threw away all your family photos.

"Glacier ice contains fingerprint evidence of past climate and past biology, trapped within the ice. Analyzing ice cores is one of the best ways to analyze carbon dioxide in the past, and they contain pollen we can look at to see what kind of plant systems may have been around. The more that glacial ice melts, the more we're erasing these historical archives that we may not have measured yet in some remote glaciers, or deep in ice caps, that can tell us the history of the Earth that will be gone forever."

Scientific papers can be pretty dense for the general public to trod through, but because this study is designed to raise general awareness of the issue, the authors say they've carefully written it as a clear and concise overview of their work on the subject.

The paper, titled Savor the Cryosphere, was published in the journal GSA Today.

Source: University of Kansas

15 comments
christopher
The problem with "proof" like this, is nobody understands the implications. It's really simple: There is NOTHING we can do to make any NOTICEABLE change to our climate's direction. Period.
Catweazle
Exactly so, Christopher. Mankind can no more *significantly* alter the Earth's climate than *significantly* alter the time the Sun rises and sets.
Grumpyrelic
3 thermometers on a whole continent (Antarctica) to provide the world with an average temperature of the whole continent... I live 45 Kms from the "official" Ottawa, Canada weather station. They never record my temperature, rainfall , sunshine or snowfall accurately in my location. I live on the Ottawa river, (2 Kms wide at this point) across from an automatic weather station. I regularly watch summer storms go down the far shore while I am sunning myself on the beach. At night I watch the TV weather to find out it rained all day where I live. 1. The first item science must provide is credibility or it is not science. 2. Every organism who lives or has lived on this planet has experienced "climate change" on an almost daily basis.. Those of you who haven't until now must have been passengers in UFOs.
Loc
And how long is this all time record? Less than 140 years? That is about a fraction of a second in the climates clock. I suggest if its a problem for you. Move.
Helios
Amazing how the climate denying trolls come of out the woodwork to post their arguments by incredulity. We just have to resign ourselves to our fate... there is nothing that can be done... climate models based on a couple hundred years of data, worthless... Even with the photos as evidence, it's still not enough to sway climate deniers' beliefs, "I've already made up my mind, don't confuse me with the facts" What we can do is agree that "something" is happening and we need to change our behaviors. Conservation and population control are the two most important things that need to change. We can't continue following a model of economic growth as the solution to all our troubles because that IS the source of all our troubles.
Scott Jarvis
Pretty darn sure that if it wasn't for climate change, much of the Colorado Rockies would be covered by glaciers. If it wasn't for climate change, how are we finding dino bones in N Dakota ? Didn't' dinos need a tropical environment? The climate has always changed and always will. It is pure arrogance to that that today/now is the correct climate and we must keep it form changing. Its all about control and telling others what they can do- not negotiated 'science'.
sk8dad
"There is NOTHING we can do to make any NOTICEABLE change to our climate's direction." Can you prove that with anything other than opinion-based generalizations?
Milton
New Atlas needs to change to Disqus comments. Because it's not worth my time to debunk all these BS climate denying fools otherwise.
toddzrx
It's actually really encouraging to read these comments and see that most everyone (with one exception) aren't drinking the AGW Kool-Aid anymore. As far as this article is concerned: way to cherry pick the data! Glaciers have been steadily receding since the end of the last ice age roughly 12 or 13,000 years ago. And if you're all that concerned about ice accumulation, just take a look at Antarctica: it's at record levels over the last decade or so.
robo
I have lived 55 feet from the Pacific Ocean for 43 years and haven't seen any change to high tide marks on piers and sea walls. If there was global warming and glaciers melting like the article says, ocean levels would have risen and I would see higher tide marks.
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