American Alpine Club library’s archive of images by early mountaineers holds clues for researchers documenting the retreat of glaciers worldwide — the #Colorado Sun

Here’s a report from Joe Purtell that’s running in the Colorado Sun. Click through and read the whole thing. Here’s an excerpt:

American Alpine Club Library Director Katie Sauter spends a lot of time in the climate-controlled special collections room, flipping through hundred-year-old photographs, black and white images of climbers posing in front of the world’s mountains and glaciers in the early 1900s. While the library is primarily maintained for climbers and historians, there is another interested cohort: glacier scientists.

The Arapaho Glacier is the largest in Colorado and a key component of Boulder’s water supply. Over the last 100 years, it has receded dramatically, and climate researcher P. Thompson Davis worries it could disappear completely. Photo credit: American Alpine Club via the Colorado Sun

Scientists periodically email the library, or even show up in Golden, looking for rare old photographs. Sauter says that while she has received requests for photos of the remote Ladakh region of India — and, closer to home, the Arapaho Glacier northwest of Nederland — they are largely focused on the same thing.

“Glaciers, mostly,” she says, “to see how much it’s melted.”

[…]

Ted Scambos, a senior research scientist at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, a University of Colorado and NOAA partnership, estimates the Arapaho Glacier has lost 75 percent of its ice in the last 100 years. To get an idea of the glacier’s range at the turn of the century, he turned to old photographs.

“We probably used some of those photographs estimating the size of how the area of Arapaho Glacier has changed since the beginning of the 1900s, then moved on to satellite data more recently,” Scambos says.

When doing his own imagery, Scambos uses high-resolution images taken from different angles to construct a three dimensional model of the glacier’s surface. His team has used ground-penetrating radar to map the glacier’s internal workings. Still, when scientists want to establish a glacier’s historic range, they are left to search through old photos…

Beginning only a few years after the invention of the modern film camera, the Mountainview Collection offers some of the earliest available images of North American glaciers. At the time, the photographers would not have suspected their images would one day be used to recall ice flows that traversed entire ranges — ice that today appears as lakes in photos taken from the same vantage points.

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