The Athabasca Glacier

Glaciers feed rivers and rivers provide communities with water. As these glaciers disappear, so will the communities that depend on them.

A friend of mine recently went on a rail trip into the Canadian Rockies where he took a great shot along the Athabasca River near the glacier of the same name. As you can see, there is lots of snow and ice on the peaks. Or is there?

Athabasca River, courtesy: Robert DePuyt

We all now know that glaciers around the world are melting, so I decided to see if there is a good historical and recent photo of this glacier from the same position. In fact there is. Again, from the satellite photo on the left it looks like there is lots of ice. But seen from ground-level in the comparisons on the right it is clear that the glacier has drastically receded (and certainly more so during the eleven years since). Glaciers feed rivers and rivers provide communities with water. As these glaciers disappear, so will the communities that depend on them.

I’m just beginning to plan a trip to Ilulissat, Greenland next spring to photograph calving glaciers. I would love to hear from anyone who has photographed glaciers to tell me about their experience.

Twice the Size of Manhattan, Greenland’s Ice Shelves Are Breaking Off

As reported by CNN, satellite images show a recent breakup of two shelves. Although these breakups contribute little to sea-level rise because most of their ice lays atop the water’s surface, they hold back the advance of the glaciers to the sea. The latter will significantly contribute to sea-level rise and reduce sea salinity levels.

Sea-level Rise Predictions



Since the 1980s computer model projections of climate change have underestimated this event. With greater advances in our understanding of the greenhouse’s effect on environmental change we have been able to make what scientists believe to be more accurate projections. However, recent radar studies of Antarctic ice mentioned in this New York Times article show there are likely more factors we are not aware of.

In this case we learn that warming ocean waters have created a huge cavity beneath one of Antartica’s ice sheets. Since most of this sheet lies above the ocean, if and when it breaks off, it could raise sea-level by as much as two feet within a short period of time–threatening coastal cities and many islands across the world.

As many environmental scientists have proposed, climate change might reach thresholds (i.e., tipping points) where unanticipated sudden catastrophic events might occur.

Global climate agreement finalized in Paris

A recent BBC article reported on implementing the Paris accord. Central to this agreement is limiting the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by human activity to the same levels that trees, soil and oceans can absorb naturally, beginning between 2050 and 2100. The report goes on to say that the Paris agreement, even if adhered to, is only a first major step to solving the climate change problem.

I’ve presented data in several of my earlier posts, along with a page of information from reputable scientific institutions. However, although data powerfully persuades scientists, it does not hold as much sway with the public. But photographs do. So here are some photos taken of the Grinnell glacier in Glacier National Park in northwestern Montana next to the Canadian border. In the three following photographs you will see the dramatic recession of this one glacier.

Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1920
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1920

Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1940
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 1940


Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2006
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2006

Public domain: USGS
Grinnell Glacier Overlook: 2013 (Public domain: USGS)

Although we know that recession would have started shortly after 1850, due to rising temperatures, note the dramatic difference between the 1940 and 2006 photographs. Collectively, these photographs are evidence of  climate change acceleration. Rephotographic evidence shows that all glaciers around the world are receding, and acceleration is fastest at the poles—all inline with historical studies of atmospheric and oceanic data.



%d bloggers like this: