Losing a Legacy: a photographic story of disappearing glaciers

Science Center Objects

With evidence of worldwide glacial recession and predictions that all of the glaciers in Glacier National Park will melt by the year 2030, NOROCK scientists are documenting glacial decline through photography. Since 1997 over seventy photographs of nineteen different glaciers have been repeated. Thirteen of those glaciers have shown marked recession and some of the more intensely studied glaciers have proved to be just 1/3 of their estimated maximum size that occurred at the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850). In fact, only 25 named glaciers presently exist of the 150 glaciers present in 1850 and those that do are mere remnants of their previous size.

Children examine the Loosing a Legacy exhibit at the MOST museum in Syracuse NY.
Children examine hte Loosing a Legacy exhibit at the MOST museum in Syracuse NY.

NOROCK scientists with the Climate Change in Mountain Ecosystems (CCME) program have created striking images by pairing historic glacier images with recent, contemporary photos. The result has given global warming a face and made climate change a relevant issue to the public. The images are an effective visual means to help viewers understand that climate change contributes to the dynamic landscape changes so evident in Glacier National Park.

NOROCK’s Repeat Photography website was developed to illustrate these dynamic changes by pairing the historic and current glacier images. Recently thirteen glacier pairs have been updated to reflect change since the early 20th century and summer 2008. In addition, the site provides the option to download the individual glacier images or download the image pairs. This is an excellent resource for all audiences interested in climate change who wish to use the images for educational or illustration purposes.

The Repeat Photography project has become an important tool for documenting and analyzing the retreat of glaciers and the images have garnered much interest from the media, academia, and most recently from the art community. Recent art collaborations have included working with painters, musicians, sculptors, and poets. In January 2009 the exhibit premiered at the Hockaday Museum of Art in Kalispell, Montana. This exhibit, Losing a Legacy: a photographic story of disappearing glaciers features the Repeat Photography Project and illustrates how the CCME program has been “blending the science of climate change research with the aesthetic of landscape photography from Glacier National Park.” In 2010, the exhibit will display at three additional locations - Holter Museum, Many Glacier Hotel, and Carroll Art Gallery. See the 2010 exhibit schedule on the lower left menu.