Photographer Bruce Molnia fell in love with taking shots of the stunning Alaskan landscapes since he first visited the state in the 1960s as a Cornell University grad student.
He used the following set of photos, taken by photographers like John Muir, later explorer William Field, and National Geographic’s Bradford Washburn, when asked in 1999 by then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to find “unequivocal, unambiguous” proof that climate change was real.
Here is what he came up with.
MUIR GLACIER & INLET
Muir Glacier is located in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Alaska and is named after the naturalist John Muir. Since the late 1700’s, it has undergone a very rapid and well-documented retreat, as seen from the below comparison of pictures.
Muir Glacier & Inlet (1895)
In this photo, the glacier stands at over 300 feet high, and there is a visible lack of vegetation on the mountain slopes.
Muir Glacier & Inlet (2005)
Over a century since the first photo, its terminus (essentially the end of a glacier) is no longer visible. There is also a lack of visible floating ice and an abundance of vegetation.
Muir Glacier and Inlet (1890)
Another set of photos, with the same visible differences as the previous shots.
Muir Glacier and Inlet (2005)
Muir Glacier Inlet (1896)
Again, an abundance of glacial ice in the early picture…
Muir Glacier Inlet (2005)
…but a lack of it in the later shot, combined with a great increase of vegetation.
Muir Glacier and Inlet (1880-1890)
This photo was taken as several tourists were exploring the icebergs in the Muir Inlet. The glacier in the background rises over 300 feet out of the water, and several icebergs are grounded on the tidal flat, some more than 6 ½ feet in diameter.
Muir Glacier and Inlet (2005)
Over a century later, the glacial has retreated over 30 miles and is completely out view. The beach in the foreground is now covered by cobble and pebble lag deposit, winnowed from the sediment deposited by the Muir Glacier and melting icebergs.
Muir Glacier & Inlet (1950)
In this photograph, despite having retreated nearly 2 miles since 1941, Muir Glacier is still connected with the tributary Riggs Glacier.
Muir Glacier & Inlet (2004)
By 2004, the glacier has completely retreated out of view and is located over 4 miles to the Northwest.
Muir Inlet (1976)
Aside from algae growing on the lighter colored dike, there is no visible vegetation is this photo.
Muir Inlet (2003)
Here, the Muir Glacier has disappeared from view, retreating over 6 miles to the north. Additionally, vegetation is beginning to develop.
Muir and Adams Glaciers (1899)
Here, the calving terminus of Muir Glacier is near its confluence with Adams Glacier.
Muir and Adams Glaciers (2003)
Several years later, both glaciers have retreated from view, and extensive vegetation has grown.
Muir Inlet (1895)
This shot shows a massive glacier on the Muir Inlet.
Muir Inlet (2005)
At the same location, the glacier is now completely out of view.
The following photos were taken on the Wachusett Inlet in the Saint Elias Mountains of Alaska. The first shot shows the lower reaches of the Plateau Glacier where, including submarine ice, the total thickness is greater than 650 feet. The second photo exhibits how, over 42 years, the glacier has now melted out of view. All that’s left of it is a Plateau remnant.
Plateau Glacier (1961)
Plateau Glacier (2003)
Both these photographs of Bear Glacier were taken on a ridge in Bulldog Cove near Bear Glacier Point, Kenai Mountains, Alaska. Since 1920, the glacier’s piedmont lobe has completely retreated out of view, and large icebergs are the only glacier ice visible.
Bear Glacier (1920s)
Bear Glacier (2005)
The following 3 sets of photos are of the Northwestern Glacier in Alaska.
Northwestern Glacier (mid1920s-1940s)
This undated shot was taken in the winter to early summer. The foreground is covered by small icebergs and the Northwestern Glacier is visible.
Northwestern Glacier (2005)
By 2005, the glacier has retreated out of view on Harris Bay is now ice-free.
Northwestern Glacier (1909)
This shot provides a slightly different view. Here, the glacier stands at just over 160 feet high, and there is no visible vegetation.
Northwestern Glacier (2004)
Almost 100 years later, the glacier has retreated from the field of view. The terminus is located over 6 miles to the northwest.
Northwest Glacier (1920-1940s)
This photo was taken in winter to early spring. The shallow water near the shoreline is covered in sea ice.
Northwest Glacier (2005)
In 2005, not only has the glacier retreated out of view, but the sedimentation and uplift have produced a marshy wetland that’s home to a wide array of vegetation.
These 3 photos show how Alaska’s Pedersen Glacier has dramatically changed over time.
Pederson Glacier (1909)
This shot was taken from the west shoreline of Aialik Bay. The water is part of an ice-marginal lake/lagoon.
Pedersen Glacier (1920s-1940s)
Here, the terminus ranges from 66-131 feet high. No vegetation is visible.
Pedersen Glacier (2005)
By 2005, most of the lake is filled with sediment, which supports many types of vegetation. The terminus has retreated over a mile and no icebergs are visible.
In the first of these 2 photos, the Reid Glacier, in Glacier Bay National Park, is approximately 197 feet tall. In the second, the glacier has retreated almost 2 miles, and the hillside is now covered with dense vegetation.
Reid Glacier (1899)
Reid Glacier (2003)
YALE GLACIER AND INLET
The first of these photos of the Yale Glacier in Prince William Sound, Alaska, shows how, except for the moraine-covered ice on both margins, snow still covers the glacier’s lower reaches. In comparison, the later photo shows how the glacier retreated nearly 5 miles. It’s also thinned substantially, in some places by more than 800 feet.
Yale Glacier & Inlet (1937)
Yale Glacier and Inlet (2006)
In 1906 the Carrol Glacier sat at the head of Queen Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve with little visible vegetation. In 2004, the glacier is now stagnant and debris-covered and has significantly thinned and retreated.
Carrol Glacier (1906)
Carrol Glacier (2004)
MC CARTY GLACIER
Located in Kenai Fjords National Park, these 4 photos show the changes that Alaska’s Mc Carty Glacier has undergone over time. In the earlier photos, there is little vegetation on the upper slopes. In the later ones, the glacier has retreated over 9 miles up the bay and there is now plenty of diverse vegetation.
Mc Carty Glacier (1909)
Mc Carty Glacier (2004)
Mc Carty Glacier (1909)
Mc Carty Glacier (2004)
These photos were taken on Nuka Passage in Kenai Fjords National Park. The first shows a gently shopping terminus with little elevation at the margin. In the second, the glacier has thinned by more than 320 feet and has retreated nearly a mile.
Yalik Glacier (1909)
Yalik Glacier (2004)
DENALI NATIONAL PARK
Denali National Park (1919)
This first photo was taken near a retreating valley glacier along the East Fork of the Teklanika River in Alaska’s Denali National Park. Except for small tundra plants, there is no visible vegetation.
Denali National Park (2004)
This more recent picture shows the continued thinning and retreating of the East Fork Teklanika Glacier, which retreats at an average rate of 13 feet per year.
The following 2 photos were taken near the Toboggan Glacier in the Chugach National Forest in Alaska. The first shows how there was once little vegetation on the fjord-facing hill-slopes of the glacier. In the second, the tongue of ice on the visible terminus is gone and the glacier continues to retreat.
Toboggan Glacier (1905)
Toboggan Glacier (2008)