Agassiz Glacier 1913 – 2005

Agassiz Glacier was one of the largest glaciers in the park prior to 1917.  In fact, during the colder, snowier period before 1850 this glacier had advanced down the valley and into the existing forest, bulldozing down trees and creating a “trimline”.  During the drought between 1917 and 1941, this glacier retreated more quickly than others – more than 100 yards per year.  This is partly due to the downward sloping bedrock underlying Agassiz Glacier and the relative thinness of the glacier ice, both of which contributed to faster melting and retreat.  Agassiz Glacier now covers about 257 acres.

Blackfoot – Jackson Glacier 1914 – 2009

Blackfoot Glacier is one of the largest glaciers in the park. Impressive glacial features such as ice cliffs with blue color and large crevasses (i.e. cracks in the glacier ice up to 30 feet wide and 200 feet long) are still visible on this sizable glacier.  Blackfoot and Jackson Glaciers were once joined as a single large glacier, but have since split in two as the ice retreated within distinct basins.  A computer model that assessed glacier retreat rates under climate change conditions predicted that these two glaciers will melt by 2030.  Recent data suggests that these glaciers are melting even faster than the model predicted and, at the present rate, will disappear before 2030.  In the summer of 2007, a large part of Blackfoot Glacier collapsed and cascaded down the mountain as an ice avalanche.

Boulder Glacier, ice cave 1932 – 1988

This is one of the earliest photographs repeated from Glacier Park that shows the disappearance of glacier ice and helped to start the current Repeat Photography Project.  The 1932 photograph shows a guide, wearing chaps, and three clients next to the ice cave.  This was one of the popular routes during the hey day of horseback trips through the park and underscores the charisma that glaciers had for early park visitors.  The 1988 photo not only shows a completely ice-free view 56 years later, but shows how vegetation has moved in to the area vacated by the glacier.  Boulder Glacier is now about 14 acres and too small to be considered a viable glacier.


Boulder Glacier circa 1910 – 2007

This view of Boulder Glacier was taken from a ridge above Hole-in-the- Wall that connects to a spur ridge from Chapman Peak.  The 1910 photograph indicates that this area is just coming out of the grip of the “Little Ice Age,” a 400-year period of below average temperatures and above average snowfall that increased the size of the glaciers.  The glacier actually extended to the right and over Boulder Pass in 1910.  A very different view is evident in 2007.  If you hike over Boulder Pass today you pass beneath and between several sets of moraines that indicate where the glacier used to be.


Chaney Glacier 1911 – 2005

The 1911 photograph shows glacier ice extending all the way down slope to the valley whereas Chaney Glacier is now confined to a small patch below the ridge in the 2005 photograph.  Chaney is now about 87 acres in size.  Note the small group of dark vegetation patches on the slope to the left of the glacier.  These “krummholz” patches of subalpine fir have not changed much in 90 years and are likely hundreds of years old.


Clements Glacier 1914 – 2010

Clements Glacier was a viable glacier with crevasses  in the early 1900s.  Today, it is a small perennial snowfield with steep moraines that outline the glacier’s previous size.  Each summer, thousands of visitors hike past these impressively steep moraines along the trail from Logan Pass to Hidden Lake Overlook.  The trail is visible along the left side of the 2010 photo.

Grinnell Glacier 1911 – 2008

The 1911 photo shows Grinnell Glacier poised at the top of the waterfalls and joined with what is now called the Salamander Glacier just before the ridgeline.   George B. Grinnell described this wall of ice as being 1,000 feet high in 1887.  As of 2008, that wall of ice had disappeared and Grinnell Glacier is not even visible in the contemporary photograph.  Grinnell Glacier has retreated behind the buff-colored ridge just above the waterfalls.  The Salamander Glacier is thinning in the middle so rapidly that it will probably be in two pieces within a few years.  To the upper left is the small, rounded glacier, Gem Glacier, that until recently had not shown signs of retreat.  It, too, is now becoming smaller.


Grinnell Glacier 1887 – 2008

The 1887 photo is by Lt. Beacon who accompanied George Bird Grinnell on his first exploration of the glacier.  Beacon is credited with the suggestion to name the glacier after Grinnell.  The 1887 scene is snowy and cold despite the fact that the exploration took part during summer.  Trees are slowly encroaching on this view and will likely obscure it in another decade.


Grinnell Glacier 1914 – 1938 – 2008

This series shows when Grinnell and Salamander separated as glacial ice continued to melt during a prolonged dry and hot period from 19171941.  Many of the park’s glaciers experienced sharp reductions in size and tree-ring studies indicate that this was one of the larger local droughts in over 400 years.

Grinnell Glacier circa 1911 – 2008

Around the time Glacier National Park was established, the historic photo shows a group of women admiring Grinnell Glacier from the shore of Lake Josephine.  Contemporary views from this spot differ greatly as Grinnell Glacier has receded, leaving only the Salamander visible from this perspective.  This photograph indicates that glaciers were attractive to tourists a century ago and the photographers hired to promote this area often included glaciers in their scenes.

 Grinnell Glacier circa 1940 – 2006

This overlook is accessed by a spur trail off the Highline Trail in the vicinity of Granite Park Chalet and shows the degree to which Grinnell Glacier has receded.  It also offers a view of Salamander Glacier (right foreground) and the miniature meltwater lake that has formed as a result of accelerated melting.

meltwater lake in front of the glacier.  It is also clear that the glacier has thinned with the ice surface elevation lowering hundreds of feet by 2009.  The relative sensitivity of glaciers to climate change is illustrated by the dramatic recession of Grinnell Glacier while surrounding vegetation patterns remain stable.

Grinnell Glacier  1920 – 2008

The 1920 photo shows National Park Service Director, Steven Mather, on Piatt Path near present day Grinnell Glacier Overlook.   Darren Pfeifle strikes a similar pose in the 2008 repeat photograph.

Grinnell Glacier 1922 – 2008

This striking pair of photographs gives a sense of the mass of ice that used to exist.  On the right side of the 1922 photograph small human figures are visible walking on the glacier.  The brighter patch in the background of the photograph is snow from the previous winter. Crevasses and striations of exposed glacier ice stretch along the foreground, now replaced by icebergs floating in the turquois water of Upper Grinnell Lake.

Grinnell Party on Grinnell Glacier unknown date

This photo, taken from a similar perspective as the 1922/2008 pair above, shows a hiking party on the north end of Grinnell Glacier where today open water exists.  On the far right is the party’s guide, Hans Reiss (brother of artist W. Reiss) and next to him, George Bird Grinnell, for whom the glacier is named.

Grinnell Glacier 1924 – 2008

The rock in the foreground of the 1924 photograph is balanced on an ice pedestal that eventually melted and probably sent the rock sliding downslope.  We searched for the rock, but it is likely at the bottom of the lake.  In the 1924 photograph the edge of the glacier (coming in from the right) is covered with debris from rocks falling off the cliff, embedding in the ice, and being carried along with the creeping ice.  The moraine (i.e. rock debris piled up by the glacier) is on the left.  In the 2008 photograph, vegetation is now growing on the moraine, the glacier has retreated up into the basin, and icebergs are floating in Upper Grinnell Lake, formed by the receding glacier.


Grinnell Glacier 1926 – 2008

This large boulder was used by Morton Elrod and other scientists as a baseline to measure the retreat of Grinnell Glacier’s terminus.  It is now referred to as “Elrod’s Rock,” and the glacier’s terminus is no longer visible  from this point.

Grinnell Glacier 1920 – 2008

This pair of photographs from Grinnell Glacier’s southeast edge shows the dramatic change in the glacier’s volume and area.  Note the glacier’s height along the headwall and how it occupies most of the basin in the historic photograph.

Hidden Lake Circa 1930 – 2009

Vegetation change can be seen in this photo pair from the alpine region at the base of Bearhat Mountain. Notice the expansion of subalpine fir trees in the circled area, indicative of warming climatic conditions.   Hidden Lake is in the foreground.

Jackson Glacier 1911- 2009

At the time this historic image was taken in 1911, Blackfoot Glacier encompassed the current Jackson Glacier.  By 1939, Blackfoot Glacier’s recession had resulted in two distinct glaciers, Jackson and Blackfoot.  This photo pair shows glacial recession and successive vegetation establishment along Jackson Glacier’s terminus.


Logan and Red Eagle Glaciers 1914- 2009

Although the 2009 photo location does not exactly match the historic photo point, a comparison of the relative glacial coverage can still be made.  Logan Glacier is in the foreground, and Red Eagle Glacier sits beneath the pyramid shaped peak that bears its same name in the background.  It appears that these two glaciers were joined at the time the historic photograph was taken, but have since recessed into their own basins.

In the photograph pairs of Piegan Glacier there are two changes.  The broad crowns of the whitebark pine (center of 1930 photograph) are missing in the modern photograph because they were killed by blister rust, an exotic pathogen.  However, the subalpine fir trees have grown vigorously and encroached on the subalpine meadow, a valuable habitat for wildlife.  This example illustrates that repeat photography is a potent tool for documenting other types of changes to mountain ecosystems over time.  Piegan Glacier has recently become smaller and is now about 61 acres.

This photograph pair illustrates one of the more dramatic cases of disappearing glaciers.  In the 1913 photograph, thick ice is evident along the bottom lobe of the glacier and extensive crevasses are present on the upper section, indicating the glacier is flowing and has significant mass.  By 2005, however, the contemporary photograph shows no ice on the bottom shelf, a small meltwater pond (center) and virtually no ice (two debris covered patches left of center).  Shepard Glacier, at its current rate of retreat, is assumed to be below 25 acres and is not a viable glacier anymore.


Sperry Glacier 1913 – 2008

In 1913, Sperry Glacier’s mass spanned across the entire basin and the glacier’s terminus was recorded to be over 150 ft. tall.  Contemporary images show how the glacier has receded and separated into fragments.

Sperry Glacier circa 1920 – 2008

Repeating Elrod’s photograph from the same photo point was impossible since the historic photograph was shot from the elevated perspective of the glacier’s surface.  The terminus of the glacier has retreated beyond the field of view, but these images give a sense of the glacier’s extent and mass early in the 20th century.

Sperry Glacier 1913 – 2007

This view of the northeast portion of Sperry Glacier shows evidence of the glacier’s recession as well as the advancement of conifer species and other vegetation on the glacial moraines.  Although melting glaciers are the most visible and direct indication of climate change in the mountains, the entire mountain ecosystem is responding.  Using repeat photography and tree-ring studies, we have documented that trees are growing faster, becoming taller and filling in the spaces with adjacent trees.  Young tree seedlings have established and are surviving in areas where deep snowpacks and harsh weather conditions had previously excluded them.  These changes are representative of high-elevation forest changes occurring elsewhere in the park.


Thunderbird Glacier 1907 – 2007

This photo pair represents a century of glacier change.  Thunderbird Glacier is now made up of numerous patches of ice and, when closely examined, this 2007 photo reveals a number of cliff bands that were covered by ice in 1907.  Also, the corner of a tiny lake is just visible in the 2007 photograph.  Acquiring the contemporary photograph involved some serious scrambling on cliffs and made us admire Morton Elrod, the original photographer, who carried much heavier and bulkier gear over the same terrain!  Thunderbird Glacier is 59 acres but will probably disappear within a few years now that it is reduced to a collection of ice patches. 

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