Friday, July 16, 2010

We're Melting

Often, the question is asked (by people who think those of us who are concerned about AGW are alarmists), "Eh, what's a couple of degrees?"

Here's one answer:

Then and Now: The Retreating Glaciers

Photographic comparison of glacier near Mt. Everest, now, and in 1921

In 1921, George Mallory, a British mountaineer, took a black-and-white photograph of Mount Everest. The photo, now legendary, shows the world’s highest peak in the distance and an S-shaped river of ice running toward the foreground: the Rongbuk glacier.

Three years ago, David Breashears, a mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker, returned to the very spot where Mr. Mallory stood to take the photograph and updated the vista. The change is sobering.

Rather than ancient snow pack, only an empty rock-strewn riverbed remains: the glacier has lost 320 vertical feet of ice mass in the intervening years in what researchers describe as a striking effect of global warming. (Roll your cursor over the images to get a sharper sense of the contrast here.)

On Tuesday, Asia Society opened an exhibition in Manhattan of a series of photographs by Mr. Breashears, who reshot many famous mountaineer photographs from earlier decades to illustrate just how swiftly the changes in the Earth’s atmosphere are taking a toll on glaciers. Glaciers play a crucial role in providing fresh water to Asian populations.

“The snow and ice stored within the magnificent arc of high-altitude glaciers in the Greater Himalaya are crucial sources of seasonal water for almost every major river system of Asia,” the society says in materials promoting the exhibition. “If current melt rates continue, these glaciers will be unable to maintain mass balance, ultimately disrupting the water supply to hundreds of millions of people downstream.”

The show runs through Aug. 15. Here’s a video in which Mr. Breashears describes his glacier research and photography.

See original post for vid. And follow links for better, larger images -- the one I swiped and shrank to fit doesn't do the contrast justice.

(h/t: @nytimesscience | x-posted)

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