The weather might finally be warming up in Central New York, but a new exhibit illustrates the damaging effect climate change is having on the world’s coldest features. “Losing a Legacy” is the name of a photography project on display at the Museum of Science and Technology revealing the dramatic decline of glaciers over the past century, especially at Glacier National Park. Exhibits project manager at the MOST Peter Plumley says the photos from the U.S. Geological Survey portend a grim future.
“The models suggest that the Glacier National Park will cease to have any glaciers by 2030 (or) possibly sooner. So one thing we do know about ice is we can measure it melting but, the melting accelerates with time.”
Plumley says that’s because of something called albedo, where the sun’s energy is reflected back into space from something white like a glacier.
“As the ice starts to melt away from the rock and its edges, it just melts faster and faster because that rock is absorbing the sun’s energy and the heat. This is actually one of the problems we have with climate change is that we’re worried about other glacial areas like Greenland.”
Plumley says it used to be completely covered in glaciers, but now photos show there’s a band of rock around the coast. He says if the melting of Greenland’s glaciers accelerates, sea level could rise 18 feet, affecting large coastal cities like New York and Los Angeles. Ordinarily, Plumley says the water from glaciers is beneficial.
“The glacier holds fresh water and it collects in the winter and it melts through the summer and it produces real streams of water that help the ecology of the country around the glacier.”
Plumley says the earliest photos in the exhibit were taken in the 1920’s.
“So, these are really rugged individuals who were going out there on horseback or whatever. But they’re just trying to document the beauty of the area. In the 70’s people are taking pictures out there. They’re going, God, ya know, they’re all receding; so they could tell by the 70’s. And then you get up to the 90’s and that’s when this project really kicks off, like starts setting up in the exact same spots that these historic photographers set and documented how significant the melt has been.”
It’s been so rapid, if fact, that Plumley says he’s saddened to know that he hasn’t returned to the park recently to witness the retreat of the glaciers.
“Between 1920 and today, when they say that over 80 percent of the glaciers that were there are gone. And the one’s that are left are much more diminished. And so, it’s not as impressive, glacial wise, it’s still beautiful country but, it’s gonna change.”
The photo exhibit will be on display through June 30th at the MOST. Black Oak Wind Farm and Solarize CNY helped bring the exhibit to Syracuse.