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Pictures of Retreating Glaciers: A Century of Melting

Updated on July 10, 2013

Glacial Melt in 33 Years

Whitechuck Glacier, Glacier Peak, Washington State, has retreated 1.2 miles in 33 years.
Whitechuck Glacier, Glacier Peak, Washington State, has retreated 1.2 miles in 33 years. | Source

Glacier National Park...Isn't

When I visited Glacier/Jasper National Park in the 90s with my Dad, he was shocked when we visited Athabasca Glacier on the Canadian side. "Where did it go?" he asked.

The Athabasca Glacier had retreated significantly since he had visited it in the 50s, when its toe was about here (see marker). I haven't been back since, but I've seen photos of it lately that shocked me — it's retreated significantly since I was there. (This 2009 photo shows it: I was there in 1993).

We hear about isolated cases of glaciers melting, but for me, what's really impressive is seeing it.

So here are some photos. It's a limited selection, because I have to stick to photos that their photographers have given permission to use.

Click photos for larger-sized views.

Be sure to watch the timelapse photography video at the end! James Balrog is an amazing nature photographer whose work I've followed for years. It's worth listening to his talk, too, or just fast forward to the timelapse photography.

My own feelings about all this? Personally, I hope the majority of climate scientists are right and these changes are manmade. Because if they're natural, and there's no way to reverse this trend, our grandchildren are going to have problems.

The Matterhorn, Switzerland, 1960-2005

1960 photo taken by Bradford Washburn; 2005 photo taken by David Arnold. Both taken mid-August.
1960 photo taken by Bradford Washburn; 2005 photo taken by David Arnold. Both taken mid-August. | Source

Chart of Arctic Ice Melt

In the past 30 years, the North Pole's ice cap has been melting more and more each summer, and covering less area during the winter. See this chart of sea ice extent showing year-to-year and month-to-month Arctic ice coverage.

From Arctic Sea Ice Monitoring by the Japanse Space Agency (they've been tracking sea ice with wearther satellites for several decades.)

Melting Alaska Glaciers

Muir Glacier has retreated seven miles and thinned by about 800 meters (2,625 feet) between 1940 and 2004. It retreated a total of about 25 miles between 1900 and 2006.

McCarty Glacier retreated about 20 km (15.5 miles) between these two photos. After it melted away from the tidewater fjord that was calving its leading edge, its retreat mostly paused for a while in the sixties and even reversed a little during the colder 70s. However, since 1984, its retreat has resumed.

McCarty Glacier Retreat 1909-2006

McCarty Glacier, 1909, in Alaska. Its foot used to rest on the bottom of McCarty Fjord.
McCarty Glacier, 1909, in Alaska. Its foot used to rest on the bottom of McCarty Fjord. | Source
McCarty Glacier has retreated back into the mountains as of 2004.
McCarty Glacier has retreated back into the mountains as of 2004. | Source

Photos: Retreat of Muir Glacier, Alaska

Muir Glacier in 1940, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. It covered much of the bay.
Muir Glacier in 1940, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. It covered much of the bay. | Source
Muir Glacier, 2008. It no longer reaches the bay, and what's left is much thinner (notice how much more rock is exposed on mountain to the left.)
Muir Glacier, 2008. It no longer reaches the bay, and what's left is much thinner (notice how much more rock is exposed on mountain to the left.) | Source

Average Annual Temperatures (blue = below average, orange=above average) 1880-2012

Glacier and Jasper National Parks

Glacier and Jasper National Parks straddle the U.S.-Canada border between Montana and Alberta.

In 1850 and 1909 surveys of Glacier National Park, it had about 150 glaciers, whereas a 2010 survey found only 25 glaciers. As you can see, those that are left aren't what they were.

I'm afraid that within our lifetime, we may have to go to the Alberta side to see any glaciers!

Boulder Glacier Melting over 56 Years in Glacier National Park

Boulder Glacier in 1932. This ice cave used to be a popular tourist destination.
Boulder Glacier in 1932. This ice cave used to be a popular tourist destination. | Source
Boulder Glacier, 1988. The ice cave is gone. Also, most of the glacier.
Boulder Glacier, 1988. The ice cave is gone. Also, most of the glacier. | Source

Photos: Melting of Grinnell Glacier, Glacier National Park

Grinnell Glacier Overlook, 1940
Grinnell Glacier Overlook, 1940 | Source
Grinnell Glacier Overlook, 2006
Grinnell Glacier Overlook, 2006 | Source

Melting Andean Glaciers May Cause Water Supply Headaches

Many South American countries depend on glaciers in the Andes Mountains for water supplies plus hydroelectric power.

Peru is particularly dependent on this freshwater source. Unfortunately, the amount of runoff from Peru's melting glaciers is beginning to drop as the total volume of ice shrinks. Peru's government is trying to adapt.

Below: Geologist Lonnie Thompson, who has been visiting Quori Kalis Glacier for years, believes it will be gone in the next decade. In 2004, he said, "In our first 15 years of observation, it was retreating at a rate of 6 meters per year, and in the last 15 years, it's been averaging 60 meters per year."

Andean Glacier in Peru Melting: 26 Years Later

Qori Kalis Glacier, Peru, July 1978.
Qori Kalis Glacier, Peru, July 1978. | Source
Qori Kalis Glacier, Peru, July 2004.
Qori Kalis Glacier, Peru, July 2004. | Source

Greenland's Glaciers Speeding Up

Greenland's glaciers are speeding up, with meltwater on top draining rapidly through moulins (subglacial conduits), and the slightly warmer ocean undercutting and sawing off the leading edges so that they flow ever faster.

Here's an article on the Jakobshavn Glacier's acceleration and melting, including the July 2010 calving event captured below in a satellite photo.

Retreating Greenland Glacier: Four year retreat

Helheim glacier, Greenland, in May 2001, July 2003, June 2005. The white area at right is water covered with icebergs floating away from glacier, which is dirty gray ice at left.
Helheim glacier, Greenland, in May 2001, July 2003, June 2005. The white area at right is water covered with icebergs floating away from glacier, which is dirty gray ice at left. | Source

Photos: 1 mile chunk falls off Jakobshavn Glacier, Greenland

2001 photo. The speed of Jakobshavn has accelerated rapidly over the last decade from 7km/year to 15km/year, so that it's retreated about 6 miles. More importantly, it's much thinner.
2001 photo. The speed of Jakobshavn has accelerated rapidly over the last decade from 7km/year to 15km/year, so that it's retreated about 6 miles. More importantly, it's much thinner. | Source
A 1-mile chunk collapses in July 2010. Glaciers are always calving into the sea; "melting" happens when they're breaking off and disappearing faster than snowfall is replenishing them.
A 1-mile chunk collapses in July 2010. Glaciers are always calving into the sea; "melting" happens when they're breaking off and disappearing faster than snowfall is replenishing them. | Source

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

I've always had a soft spot for Mt. Kilimanjaro: a beautiful volcanic peak (I love volcanoes) with its crest covered by tropical glaciers. There's isolated glaciers like this around the world, and they seem to be the ones that are going first.

If Kilimanjaro's ice cap keeps melting at the current rate, it should be gone by the 2030s. I guess we'll have to stay tuned!

Mt. Kilimanjaro, 17 Years of Glacial Melting

Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, February 1993.
Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, February 1993. | Source
Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, February 2000. Pretty soon, people aren't going to believe the "snows of Kilimanjaro" ever existed!
Mt. Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, February 2000. Pretty soon, people aren't going to believe the "snows of Kilimanjaro" ever existed! | Source

Extreme Ice Survey: Fantastic TED Talk with Timelapse Photos

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    • Howell Clark profile image

      Howell Clark 3 years ago from Cleburne, Texas

      as unsettling as i'm sure this is for many people , especially those that think man is the problem and the answer to and for everything, this melting of these beautiful glaciers is nothing that hasn't happened numerous times in the past and will occur again in the future. just think of all the new land and areas that will open up for man and plants and animals. did anyone bother to see the trees that sprung up in one of the fifty year span of pictures. anyone in wisconsin or minnesota , or canada griping about the lack of glaciers there that disappeared about twenty five thousand years ago and have been receding ever since. the last ice age is probably one of the reason the original inhabitants of the americas were able to walk here and the receding glaciers the reason why they were isolated for 15000-18000 years. mother nature adapts so man had better quit crying wolf and adapt also.

    • Ella Quirk profile image

      Ella Quirk 6 years ago

      Really interesting, if disturbing, pictures Greekgeek. Many scientists believe the effects of climate change are likely to be irreversible anyway. Alas, we've been in denial and procrastinated for too long.

    • sandrabusby profile image

      Sandra Busby 6 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA

      Yes, and this is news that only makes the inside page of newspapers and gets one inch of space. Thanks for your information.

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