Repeat Photography Project

Science Center Objects

Climate change research in Glacier National Park, Montana entails many methods of documenting the landscape change, including the decline of the parks namesake glaciers. While less quantitative than other high-tech methods of recording glacial mass, depth, and rate of retreat, repeat photography has become a valuable tool for communicating effects of global warming. With evidence of worldwide glacial recession and modeled predictions that all of the parks glaciers will melt by the year 2030, USGS scientists have begun the task of documenting glacial decline through photography. The striking images created by pairing historic images with contemporary photos has given global warming a face and made climate change a relevant issue to viewers. 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.

Animated photo of Grinnell Glacier recession over time.
Public domain

The Repeat Photography Project began in 1997 with a systematic search of the archives at Glacier National Park. We began searching for historic photographs of glaciers in the vast collection that spans over a century. Many high quality photographs exist from the parks early photographers such as Morton Elrod, T.J. Hileman, Ted Marble, F.E. Matthes, and others who scoured the park to publicize its beauty and earn their livings. Copies of the historic photos were taken in the field to help determine the exact location of the original photograph. Photographing the glaciers cannot occur until the previous winters snow has melted on the glacial ice and when air quality conditions are considered at least good. This creates a narrow window in the northern clime of Glacier National Park where smoke from forest fires prevented photography on many occasions in the past few years. Since 1997 over eighty photographs have been repeated of twenty different glaciers. Most of the glaciers have shown marked recession and some glaciers are now just 1/3 of their estimated maximum size that occurred at the end of the Little Ice Age (circa 1850). In fact, only 26 named glaciers presently exist of the 150 glaciers present in 1850 and those that do are mere remnants of their previous size. Other glaciers, such as Piegan Glacier, have remained visibly unchanged as a result of their north- northeast aspect and tendency to accumulate wind deposited snow along the Continental Divide. The photos of Piegan Glacier though, record dramatic change in foreground vegetation in response to climate change factors such as change in wildfire frequency and infestation of white pine blister rust. Close inspection of the photo pairs in this collection reveal many changes on a more subtle level than the obvious size reduction in glacial ice see what changes you can detect.

Map showing glaciers re-photographed by USGS since 1997.
Map showing glaciers re-photographed by USGS since 1997. The red dots on this map represent selected repeat photographs of glaciers taken throughout Glacier National Park. Click on the corresponding glacier from the menu at right to view photographs.

 

Click on map for larger version. The red dots on this map represent selected repeat photographs of glaciers taken throughout Glacier National Park, Montana.

 

Repeat Photo Glacier List - Click on glacier name to access downloadable images. You can click on the image to access download options. 

Agassiz (Boulder Pass)

Agassiz - terminus

Blackfoot-Jackson

Boulder

Boulder - Ice Cave

Boulder - Chapman Peak

Boulder - terminus

Chaney - terminus

Chaney - notch

Clements

Grant

Grinnell 1887 - 2013

Grinnell - trail 1900-2008

Grinnell - trail 1910-2008

Grinnell - trail 1911-2008

Grinnell Footbridge 1887-2008

Grinnell Footbridge 1920-2008

Grinnell Lake Josephine

Grinnell Quad

Grinnell 1941-2013

Grinnell Overlook

Grinnell Overlook-Portrait

Grinnell Mather Overlook

Grinnell North Moraine

Grinnell North Part Moraine

Grinnell South Moraine

Grinnell-Elrod's Rock

Grinnell Elrod's Rock and Terminus

Grinnell Basin 1936-2010

Grinnell Basin 1936-2013

Grinnell Basin 1936-2014 

Grinnell Ridge

Harrison

Iceberg

Jackson

Piegan - Siyeh

Red Eagle - Logan

Sexton

Shepard 1911 - 2005

Shepard 1913 - 2005

Sperry

Sperry - Comeau

Sperry - Panorama

Sperry - Mid View

Swiftcurrent from Trail

Swiftcurrent from Lookout

Swiftcurrent 1911 - 2013

Thunderbird

Vegetation Change

Hidden Lake (a)

Hidden Lake (b)

Logan Pass

Piegan

Sperry - NE view

 

Help the USGS expand their collection of repeat photographs.  If you volunteer to re-photograph glaciers in Glacier National Park, your images may be included in the contemporary collection that is available to the public.  Amassing images that represent the current state of glaciers will create a valuable resource for current and future ecological research.

 

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST

Sources of Historic Photographs:

Repeat Photography

Glacier Retreat in Glacier National Park, Montana, USA