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Visiting the Same Glacier 22 Years Apart – Seeing Climate Change in Action

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Way back in 1995 my friends and I took an old MG Montego on a road trip from Scotland to Chamonix in the French Alps which also happened to be my first holiday abroad. I wrote about it a few years ago – The Spirit of Adventure. My abiding memory of that trip was taking a hike up the mountains to see my first ever glacier. I was expecting it to look pristine and white, not covered in rocks and debris so initially asked my friend where the glacier was before he pointed out that everything in front of me was a glacier! You can understand my confusion, this is the photo I subsequently took:

Scott and Gary and the Mer de Glace

Wind forward to the Summer of 2017 where I had the pleasure of spending a few months living in France including a couple of trips to Chamonix. First time was with a friend for a few days and we went up to the highest point a cable car can – the Aiguille du Midi (which was too expensive for the John Conners of 1995 to afford) – and I was hoping once again to catch sight of this amazing glacier I’d seen over 20 years before. Turns out I should have looked at a map – the glacier was on the next set of mountains over. But it was pretty spectacular nonetheless!

Nice view at the top! I'm the one on the left

A few weeks later I returned and this time I had a better of idea of the glacier I’d originally seen – I reckoned it was the mighty Mer de Glace. So I figured out how to hike there and one morning that’s exactly what I did. Rather than being a lazy tourist and taking the funicular railway to the top I walked – starting straight up a ski slope (those things are pretty steep and relentless to walk up). And after a couple of hours I found myself in truly spectacular scenery.

The Mountains above the Mer de Glace

It was shortly after I was in for a bit of a shock. Turns out the glacier has receded dramatically over the 22 years since I’d been. To the point where there are signs on the cliff as you go down showing you where it was in a given year.

I couldn’t help but feel sad – upset if I’m honest – to see such a dramatic difference in such a short space of time (22 years really isn’t long at all). The sheer volume of ice that’s melted just boggles the mind, but it wasn’t until I finally got around to scanning in the negatives of my photos from 1995 that I was really able to compare the before and after as it just happens that I’d taken pretty much the exact same photo 22 years apart (I’m nothing if not consistent).

The photos were taken at around the same time of year and it’s pretty clear that the rock and green line is significantly further from the glacier than it used to be. When you multiply that by how long the glacier is, that’s a hell of a lot of ice that’s no longer there. When you look at a photo like those above and see the difference it’s pretty unsettling. But when you walk there and see it with your own eyes and remember what it looked like before, it really does bring it home to you how our planet is warming. We live on a beautiful planet, but it’s fragile.

A couple of generations from now that glacier will be entirely gone. Enjoy it while you can.

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Creator of John's Background Switcher. Scotsman, footballer, photographer, dog owner, risk taker, heart breaker, nice guy. Some of those are lies.

8 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. Amazing! Thanks for sharing these pictures. Also amazing is the fact that so many of our US politicians, including our President, don’t believe it.

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    • Crazy isn’t it? I was really downbeat walking back afterwards as it hit me how real climate change is and how quickly things are changing. I’d seen photos when I was in New Zealand of glaciers receding over a century but never expected to see it happen with my own eyes.

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  2. Yes very sad it is happening and very ashamed that the leader of my country denies it.

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  3. I’m left feeling curious about what it looked like 22 years before your first visit.

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    • Turns out in 1979 it looked like this which is almost exactly the same as my 1995 photo. So it’s dramatically speeding up.

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  4. I did the same thing in Switzerland only 10 years apart for a photo essay and the Glacier had receded over 50 metres! It’s insane!!

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  5. There dose seem to be some change in the glacier, but that’s what glaciers do, they move and change. I don’t think people really can wrap their heads around time or changes over time. I live in a town in Colorado that is 4,593 ft (1,397 m) above sea level (that hasn’t changed in any recent recorded time), if you dig in the dirt around here you can dig up sea fish fossils because this area was once all under water. Moving up in more recent time near by there is mounts of rock moved by glaciers, but no human has seen glaciers in the lower USA.
    If people really cared about reducing pollution (the real problem) than they would stop buying junk from China where they create massive pollution and waste then ship it across the world to be sold for the lowest price. Or take that coffee you get in the morning, grown in South America shipped around the world, spurted in a plastic cup you throw away after only hours of use.
    I guess what I am saying is that we have less effect on the environment than those who are looking to tax you because you live in a country that is already cleaner than where you get everything from is causing more problems. I am still waiting for the oceans to rise and wash away California because the tectonic plates are actually raising it up 😉

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    • It’s funny you should mention fish fossils as back when I first went to the Alps we hiked up a mountain and at the summit my friend pointed to some marks in the rocks and told us where we were stood used to be the bottom of the sea and these were fossils of sea creatures!

      You’re also right about the globalisation effects. If you see a major shipping port and the amount of stuff that gets shipped round the world it boggles the mind! 🙂

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