Retreat of the Columbia Glacier, Alaska, USA, by ~6.5 km between 2009 and 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
The photos appeared in the new paper "Savor the Cryosphere," published in the peer-reviewed GSA Today, a publication of the Geological Society of America. The cryosphere is the Earth's frozen waters.
"We have unretouched photographic evidence of glaciers melting all around the globe," co-author Gregory Baker, adjunct professor of geology at the University of Kansas, said.
"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, some taken up to 100 years ago, and my co-authors went back and reacquired photos at many of these locations. So it's just straightforward proof of large-scale ice loss around the globe."
Baker's research career centers on geophysical imaging of Earth's subsurface and geoscience education.
Stein Glacier, Switzerland, retreat of ~550 m from 2006 to 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
Photographer James Balog, who was featured in the Emmy Award winning climate change documentary, Chasing Ice, contributed photographs from the Extreme-Ice Survey.
Other co-authors of the paper include Richard Alley, an American geologist who was invited to testify about climate change by Vice President Al Gore; Patrick Burkhart of Slippery Rock University; Lonnie Thompson of the Byrd Polar Research Center at Ohio State University; and Paul Baldauf of Nova Southeastern University also contributed to the paper.
The team hopes the paper will raise awareness about the world's melting glaciers.
"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," Baker said.
"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."
Solheimajokull, Iceland, retreat of ~625 m from 2007 to 2015. Credit: James Balog and the Extreme Ice Survey
"Glacier ice contains fingerprint evidence of past climate and past biology, trapped within the ice," Baker continued.
“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. All of this information has been captured in glaciers over hundreds of thousands of years, and sometimes longer—Greenland and Antarctica cover perhaps up to a million years. 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."