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Beneath the Pacific Slope’s Glaciers

In the late 1860’s, four committed, intelligent and passionate men led a series of brave groups into uncharted wilderness of the American West. John Wesley Powell took his hodgepodge crew and dropped them into the Grand Canyon. Clarence King surveyed the 40th Parallel beyond the Rocky Mountains. Ferdinand Hayden explored the geological wonders of Yellowstone, while Wheeler explored the desert southwest. Skilled and equipped to methodically search for mineral wealth, these Western surveys captured a unique record of the early American West. By the turn of the decade, the remaining realms of terra incognita in the Western US were the high summits of the Cascades and Sierras.

On 11 September 1870, Clarence King made the very first recorded observations of Mount Shasta’s glaciers. From about 12,269’ on the NE edge of the Shastina crater, King describes the Whitney Glacier as “a fine glacier, which started almost at the very crest of the main mountain, flowing toward us, and curving around the circular base of our cone. Its entire length in view was not less than three miles, its width opposite our station about four thousand feet, the surface here and there terribly broken in “cascades,” and presenting all the characteristics of similar glaciers elsewhere.” That week, four of Shasta’s glaciers were described and most in less detail.

kingp073- 1870Mount Shasta and Whitney Glacier in California, seen from the crater (Shastina). Photo by C.E. Watkins. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey). ID: kingp073, USGS Photographic Library. Photo by C.E. Watkins.


In the following month, Samuel Franklin Emmons, King’s handpicked assistant geologist, continued on to Mt. Rainier. Meanwhile, Arnold Hauge accompanied by Allen David Wilson examined Mt. Hood. These topographical details were collected and combined with a few brief descriptions. This work became the basis for putting Pacific Slope’s terra incognita and it’s glaciers on a map.

True, these mountains had been previously explored, summited, and even loosely described. Yet few of these accounts can be separated from the web of fantastic claims and flowery descriptions too vague to be useful. Apart from the King’s party’s survey points and descriptions rarely exceeding a few lines, what remains for us today are a few photographs. To this day, these government sanctioned photographs remain among the most detailed and objective records we have of the Pacific slope’s early glaciers and landscapes.

kingp079-Shasta_ShastinaCrater 1870Mount Shasta and Whitney Glacier crevasses, seen from the crater (Shastina). Whitney Glacier in California was the first glacier described in the United States. Clarence King in the foreground. Photo by C.E. Watkins. Geological Exploration of the Fortieth Parallel (King Survey). ID: kingp079, USGS Photographic Library.


Several geologists observed that the Pacific Slope’s glaciers were relics of one or more greater periods of glaciation. At some point, ice enveloped the mountain flanks and reached beyond their current extents, deep into the warm territory several thousand feet below. The evidence was abound in moraines hundreds if not thousands of feet high, rouche mountonees far from the current ice, and deep carved valleys spattered with glacial polish among the infilling sandy meadows and colonizing forests.

When this evidence is compared to the larger ice masses in the Alps, King had to ask the question in the Atlantic’s March 1871 issue, “How and why these glaciers should have perished while the climate is yet cold enough for their existence has become one of the most interesting questions of the finishing-up period of Western geology.” Since observations across the West confirmed that the temperatures were sufficient for glacial accumulations, King deduced that only one other factor could explain why these glaciers had receded, “dryness.” There was simply not enough snow during the consecutive winters to survive the summer periods to foster accumulation.

Both King’s insights and Powell’s examination of the Colorado River revealed that the American West had been dry for some time. These men stood in the face of claims that “rain follows the plow.” Their efforts would be too late to clarify the misrepresentations for the millions of people following tales of gold and opportunity to populate the West. Despite their tardiness, the great western surveys at last began to provide objective, level headed reports to Congress about the opportunity and the limits found in the Rockies, Sierras, and the desert South West.

Dana_upper_pairLeft Photo: Texture and fractures helps to delineate ice from snow. Mount Dana Glacier. Northern side of Mt. Dana. Yosemite National Park, California. 1883. ID: ric00045, USGS Photographic Library. Right Photo: Both thickness of area of the Dana glacier have diminished. The glacier has separated into distinct lobes. The Dana glacier feeds into Mono Lake, one of Los Angeles’ primary water sources in the Owens Valley.


Four generations of development later, the Pacific slope’s glaciers continue to be the proverbial canary for the West’s impending water problems. We don’t have to look to the Arctic or Antarctic to observe climate change, because the effects are becoming clear in local watersheds. Snow is less likely than a decade ago and precipitation is even more variable. Glaciers continue to recede and even disappear, indicating increased stress on the Pacific Slope’s watersheds. The Lyell glacier in San Francisco’s watershed has stopped moving. Mt. Clark glacier, which heavily inspired John Muir’s theory of Yosemite Valley’s formation, has since disappeared. Many glaciers that once overlooked the Owen’s Valley, Los Angeles’ prime water source, have practically disappeared.

Alpine of the Americas Project (AAP) is continuing to tell the story beneath the Pacific Slope’s glaciers. By providing the tools to conduct simple, repeatable, and useful observations in alpine environments, individuals repeat historic photographs to show how watersheds are changing. From the thousands of useful historic photographs available throughout the Americas, AAP will help individuals capture how glaciers recede, lakes shift, plants colonize, and beetles infest. Each of these photographs becomes an effective communication tool, an example of the broad body of evidence, yet using no words, to illuminate how climate change affects us all in dramatic and subtle ways.

ric00050_pair_smTop Photo: Repeat photograph of Mt. Lyell glacier. This photograph reveals a significant retreat of ice as well as thinning in the accumulation zone over 130 years. This watershed drains into Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a primary water source for San Francisco. Bottom photo: Yosemite National Park, California. Lyell Glacier. 1883. Plate 39, U.S. Geological Survey Annual Report 5 (1883-1884). 1885. ID: ric00050, USGS Photographic Library.

The Bay Delta Water Plan and the Threatened Water Supply to Sacramento

Now that effects of climate change are visible in the landscapes and ecosystems across the world, it is about time that policy is responding to changes predicted by computer models. According to these predictions, in California, a dramatically shrunken Sierra Nevada snowpack will produce less runoff, with changes to seasonal timings that will mean more rain and less snow in the winter leading to decreased snowmelt in spring and summer, resulting in drastic depletion of the Sacramento water supply.

By the year 2060 – maybe even earlier – water levels in the Folsom Reservoir could be so low for one year in ten that it will cease to be a reliable water source for the city. It will likely become what is known as a ‘dead pool,’ meaning that although there may still be some water behind the dam, it will no longer flow from the outlets. Similar predictions have been made for the Shasta and Oroville reservoirs, and access to water from the American River is also predicted to be under threat.

Water wars

Discussions about improving the water supply to the area by creating new diversions from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta have continued for decades. In the 1982 referendum on the issue, a proposal to move the main diversion point from its current position near Tracy in the south Delta was rejected, resulting in further decades of argument between the vested interests of the cities, farmers and conservationists – the so called ‘water wars,’ which can also be characterized as an argument between the dry south and the wetter north.

The importance of the Delta to California’s economy cannot be overstated. A large proportion of the nation’s supply of fresh vegetables, fruit and nuts are produced in the San Joaquin and Santa Clara valleys, which rely on Delta water, and the many river channels that crisscross the hundreds of square miles of the Delta’s islands are important migratory routes for Chinook salmon, on which an important sector of the West Coast fishing industry is dependent. The delicate and complex balance of fresh and salt water in the estuary supports several other native fish species, but recent years have seen severely reduced populations. Measures introduced to protect the Delta smelt and salmon have reduced water supplies to cities and farms, and the current infrastructure for water delivery has been recognized as vulnerable to disruption.


Change was inevitable. After seven years of studies, federal, state and local leaders, together with some of the major Southern California and San Joaquin Delta water suppliers, introduced the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP), whose aim was to address all these issues and to balance the needs of fish, farms and cities (this is available for public review until April 14, 2014). The plan is commonly known as ‘the tunnel project’ because of its proposed diversion of a portion of the water flow in the Sacramento River to pass underneath the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in two 35-mile tunnels.

This has caused concern amongst conservationists and politicians alike, notably by Friends of the River and the Sacramento City Council. Preliminary analysis on the plan’s environmental impact has shown that the likelihood of the dead pool effect occurring would not be reduced by the building of the tunnels, and that in some months and in certain conditions it may even worsen the effect. The Council also criticized the plan for its short term view, that it would do nothing for the predicted long term problems of the region’s water supply, and that it concentrated on stabilizing water flow to southern areas of the state while giving no assurances about solving the threat of water shortages in Sacramento.

Arguments over the plan highlight the difficulties in deciding California’s future water supply based on reasonable assumptions today. Even the most rigorously designed computer models show varied water supplies.  Slight changes in the assumptions can result in significantly varied scenarios and diametrically opposed positions being defended by politicians and vested interests. For example, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) deputy director for water management, Paul Helliker, has shed doubt on the dead pool problem, stating: ‘The driver of these future conditions is the climate change assumptions. What we’re showing is that there is no impact from BDCP operations on either Folsom or Shasta.’

Action and criticism

In October 2013 a proposed Final Draft Delta Science Plan was published, which outlined the stages for future development of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water supply system. Its aim is to protect declining native species while maintaining the water supply and building up the economy of California, and to act as a catalyst to promote the sharing of scientific knowledge and expertise that will lead to workable solutions. It acknowledges that conflicting ideas hinder the decision-making process and slows the development of important infrastructure projects. The risks of damage to the fragile Delta water system by droughts, floods, earthquakes or climate change is severe, and there is a pressing need for decisive action to be taken. To this end, the 2009 Delta Reform Act created the Delta Stewardship Council, which now has the task of implementing the BDCP.

However, in June 2013, Friends of the River and a coalition of environmental groups from Southern and Northern California with Delta farming and fishing communities filed a lawsuit in the San Francisco Superior Court asserting that BDCP violates the California Environmental Act, the 2009 Delta Reform Act and the California Administrative Procedure Act. The coalition claims that BDCP and its environmental impact report have failed to disclose or analyze the potential damage to the Delta, the rivers of Northern California and the endangered native fish species by the diversion of huge quantities of fresh water from the Sacramento River, and has requested that the court suspend implementation of the plan, including construction of the tunnels, until all legal requirements have been met. Senior counsel for the coalition, Bob Wright, has described the plan as the worst threat to these rivers in their history, and that the state authorities have embarked on this plan to move large volumes of water with no regard for the consequences. He said: ‘Seeking relief from the courts is now necessary to protect our rivers and fish from this arbitrary, destructive action.’

Plowing Ahead

With season of drought well underway, following a record breaking dry year, pinned against a thirst for California’s economy to grow, the BDCP must leverage its scientific expertise and broad coalition to determine how to take the long-view to benefit the most stakeholders, while doing the least harm. Given the wide-ranging interests of municipalities, industry, infrastructure development, agriculture, and winter recreation, steering consensus will take strong  and sustained leadership. Can underground transport and storage be implemented legally and managed responsibly? If so, these infrastructure investments would positively impact economic growth and long-term water security. Regardless, while the future of Sacramento’s water is reconfigured in the courts, the root causes of climate change and water scarcity plow ahead.

Alpine of the Americas Project  – Ascending into 2014

Ascending into 2014

Connecting Mountains, Water, and People

Dear AAP Friends & family,

    We are reaching out to you because we’ve worked with, talked about, or expressed interest in crowd-sourced alpine observations.  2013 has been a momentous year for Alpine of the Americas Project.  This year we have:

~ Become an official non-profit organization

~Drawn national news attention to the effects of climate change on vital local resources

~Built national and international partnerships to repeat over 100 photographs for scientific research

~Developed a catalog of over 400 historic photos in 5 countries for individuals to repeat and take home their personal alpine observations

Click here to make a donation to support local and personal participation in climate research

You are part of a trusted community we depend on to succeed.  We believe in the value of sharing these observations to continue communicating how mountains provide vital resources for people.

Tell your friends!  We are in the early steps of seeking support for this work and every connection and donation makes a difference. Please send this email along to other people who you think might be interested in participating or supporting this project!

Please support us by making a donation today! Whether it is $25, $100, or $1000 your tax-deductible donation to Alpine of the Americas makes a real difference for finding historic photos and locations, leveraging the capacity of our citizen-scientist volunteers, and communicating dramatic environmental changes to the public though repeating historic photos!

Thank you for your generosity and support!

Jonathan Byers and Edgardo LeBlond
       Alpine of the Americas Project Founders

Repeat a Photo!

Repeat a Photograph on your next adventure. Your contribution is valuable research and public outreach. Want a guide? A Custom Trip is your opportunity for a Sierra getaway with professional naturalists and educators.
Read our feature article from the Austral Summer 2013 issue of the Patagon Journal.
Your support makes this project possible and every drop makes a difference.

AAP in the Media

Repeat photographs are a powerful tool in showing the effects of climate change on alpine environments and the water resources we depend on. See our feature on theCBS Evening News.

Annual Report 2013


While teaching in Yosemite Valley, Jonathan Byers and Ned LeBlond recognized a need to communicate climate science more effectively with the public. In May 2013, Alpine of the Americas Project (AAP) was set into motion to crowd source repeat historic photographs to visually capture alpine responses to climate change. By taking the administrative burden, Social and Environmental Entrepreneurs (SEE) allows AAP to focus on working with participants, contribute data to climate science databases, and use repeat photographs to express large swathes of data in a simple image revealing changes to local watersheds.




AAP has captured over 100 repeat photographs from Glacier National Park in Montana to Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina. This boreal fall, 8 successful participants contributed 33 photos in 3 countries. These observations included glacier recession, meadow succession, shifting shorelines of lakes and water supplies, mudslides, and development. This data will be contributed to Glaciers of the American West, CalPhoto of UC Berkeley, and used in publications to clarify water problems in the American West.

We’ve made repeat photographs more accessible to participants by providing over 200 repeat photographs online as well as several repeat photo sets in Washington, California, and Patagonia. This resulted from building our database, which now has over 400 useful photographs in 4 countries and 8 states. This database is continually growing and being made available at our Repeat a Photograph webpage.


Our partnerships are becoming the cornerstone of excellent data. With donated time from LightHawk pilots, Jonathan was able to capture the first set of aerial repeat photographs taken of the MacClure and Dana glaciers along the Eastern border of Yosemite National Park. Moreover, we are developing annual relationships with passionate individuals, families, guiding outfits such as Outward Bound, and various colleges throughout the Pacific Slope who plan to become stewards of specific repeat photograph locations. With consistency from these partners, we expect to improve our accuracy over time. RePhoto’s smartphone app has become an integral part of making some historic photographs more accessible and easy to repeat.




2013 was a big year for AAP in the news. The story of AAP’s initial stages was captured by Boulder Weekly to close last year. Jonathan was published in the Patagon Journal’s Austral Summer Edition as he followed in the footsteps of a famous South American photographer Alberto de Agostini. The project gained national media attention on CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley televised the AAP founders repeating photographs in Estes Park, CO. This fall, NPR interviewed Ned to discuss how of historic photographs can be useful for climate scientists and even contributed a photograph of the Mt. Abbot Glacier from Mono Pass. Recently, the Columbia Icefield Gigapan Project Annual Newsletter featured a history of the Pacific Slope’s oldest glacier photos.

Click here for a PDF file of the AAP Annual Report 2013

The Living Glaciers of California – 140 Years Later

140 years ago John Muir published  an article in Harpers Magazine entitled “The Living Glaciers of California”.  According to Josiah Whitney,  the California State Geologist, “A more absurd theory was never advanced than that by which it was sought to ascribe to glaciers the sawing out of these vertical walls and the rounding of the domes.”

While he was not a geologist by training, Muir was a keen observer of landscapes and their patterns.  Through many summers wandering in the High Sierra certain clues had caught his attention.  He noticed in the high country how many of the rocks were polished to a smooth finish, with fine streak marks in them.  How there were places where large boulders had been inexplicably scattered across the surface of meadows.  And how up in the very highest parts of the mountains of Yosemite there were large snowfields.  Byers_LMsurvey-2

“One of the yellow days of last October, when I was among the mountains of the Merced group, following the footprints of the ancient glaciers that once flowed grandly from their ample fountains, reading what I could of their history as written in moraines and canyons and lakes and carved rocks, I came upon a small stream that was carrying mud I had not before seen.” ~J. Muir His Life and Letters, T. Gifford.

In 1872, he set out to measure the movement of these glaciers and end the controversy of the existence of glaciers in the Sierra Nevadamaclure_1939_2012_pair

“The Lyell Glacier is about a mile wide and less than a mile long, but presents, nevertheless, all the more characteristic features of large, river-like glaciers-moraines, earth-bands, blue-veins, crevasses etc., while the streams that issue from it are turbid with rock-mud, showing its grinding action on its bed. And it is all the more interesting since it is the highest and most enduring remnant of the great Tuolumne Glacier, whose traces are still distinct fifty miles away, and whose influence on the landscape was so profound. The McClure Glacier, once a tributary of the Lyell, is much smaller. Eighteen years ago I set a series of stakes in it to determine its rate of motion which towards the end of summer, in the middle of the glacier, I found to be a little over an inch in twenty-four hours.” ~J. Muir, The Yosemite, 1912.

If John Muir found the living glaciers of California, what is happening in these same places now?

In July and September of 2012 I returned to the Lyell and Maclure Glaciers with Byers_LMsurvey-1Greg Stock, the Yosemite National Park Geologist and Robert Anderson, a researcher at CU Boulder to find out what they look like 140 years after John Muir first measured them.

By placing PVC pipes into the glacier and measuring them with a laser rangefinder and GPS they have been able to track the downhill movement of these bodies of ice over time.   Over five years of study they have found that the Lyell Glacier has stopped moving, and the Maclure glacier is moving at about 22 feet per year, barely enough to sustain it’s status as a glacier.  If we take Muir’s measurements of “a little over an inch in twenty-four hours” – which translates to about 33 feet of movement per year.  While movement is important, what is particularly startling is the volume of ice lost.

While these days the tools are differential GPS and laser rangefinders instead of plumb lines and Whitebark Pine stakes, the goal remains the same: to better understand our world through empirical measurements.  What has changed are the outcomes.  In Muir’s time it was a revelation for people to realize that there were significant glaciers hiding high in the Sierra Nevada.  Now we are concerned about what the effects of these glaciers disappearing will be.  While few people visit the Lyell or Maclure Glaciers in a given year, the water from these glaciers visits the faucets of about 2.4 million people every day through runoff stored in Hetch Hetchy reservoir.  As usual, I find myself trying to explain, “Why does this actually matter?”  Well, I’ll let Bob Anderson tell you.  Oh, and look for Greg disappearing down into the ice cave in the background…

Want to see these places for yourself?  Stay tuned for a Yosemite Conservancy trip to these glaciers with Pete Devine, or field trips with us next summer!  For more, also check out photographer Kirk Keeler’s series on visiting these glaciers this past summer.








AAP in the News

Since the beginning Alpine of the Americas Project (AAP) has focused on developing meaningful ways to take on new outdoor adventures and provide valuable information for science at the same time. Today we’re thrilled to report to you our progress.

What happened?

On June 28, CBS Evening News with Scott Pelley featured AAP and shared our story of repeating historic photographs to document local effects of climate change.  The 3-minute piece summarized our rephotography work in the Sierras and Patagonia and sharing these photos with local communities and climate scientists. We’re proud the piece was beautiful and simple, though there is still much more to tell.

What’s Next?

We’re working hard to get individuals out on their own repeating historic photos this summer as well as running a trip this summer in the high country of Yosemite National Park to facilitate and guide the experience of repeating historic photographs.

We’re also expanding our project’s reach. Students from Outward Bound California will be incorporating historic repeats into their curriculum as service projects to give their students a meaningful way to be adventurous while contributing to climate science. With our new relationships with RePhoto and meadow and forest succession scientists, we’re allowing the casual hiker an easier experience, closer to the beaten path. Meanwhile, we continue to find premiere athletes willing to go to remote places where scientists rarely have the time or budget to travel to. By expanding our reach we’ll become even more effective at contributing useful photographs to climate scientists and building a visual record of our changing watersheds.

Thanks for your participation, and see how you can get involved!

There’s an app for that!

rePhoto_screenshotWhen we got into this project we thought it would be great if we could make an app that would simplify the process of repeating photos.  Well, now there is!

We’ve partnered with Project rePhoto and have recently been testing the app with a few historic photos near Estes Park, Colorado.  We were extremely happy with our tests, and will eventually have our entire photo archive on to make it easy wherever you are.rePhoto_Estes_2_sm Big_Thompson_wide

The app is FREE to download, works on iOS and Android, shows you where the historic photos are on a map, uses an overlay to precisely line up the images, and then automatically puts them on the web for you, us, and everyone else to see!

Go get it for yourself, register for our project, Alpine of the Americas, and start repeating photographs easier than ever before!

AAP in the Patagon Journal

Patagonia in Time / Patagonia en el Tiempo
This article appeared in the 2013 Austral Summer issue of the Patagon Journal.
Read it at

When we look out at the grand landscapes of
Patagonia it is hard to imagine them changing.
From the massive rumbling glaciers of
Mount Tronador, to the clean granite spires
of the Fitz Roy range, to the steep peaks and clear blue
lakes of Torres del Paine, these landscapes seem timeless./Cuando observamos las grandiosas vistas de
la Patagonia es difícil imaginar que cambian.
Desde los masivos y estruendosos glaciares
del Monte Tronador y las limpias agujas de
granito del cordón del Fitz Roy, hasta los escarpados
picos y los claros lagos azules de Torre del Paine, estos
parajes parecen eternos.

Crowd Sourcing

Since the inception of this project we have believed that having people see the changes for themselves is always a more powerful experience than just looking at them on their computers.  This year we have been focusing on reaching out and communicating about what we are doing to get more people involved.  One of the people who has repeated a photo recently is Eric Guth, an accomplished photographer with a strong interest in ice as well.

Rio Blanco

I had tried getting to this location last year but had been turned back by incredibly high winds.  Eric managed to get to the spot of the de Agostini photo and put a cairn of rocks so others can find the same spot in the future.

An interesting thing I found while spending time in the climbing community in El Chalten, Argentina, is that sometimes people repeat historic photographs without even knowing it.  Cerro Solo is a popular “warmup” climb for the bigger mountains around El Chalten and climbers Marcus Loane and Colin Haley had both taken photos from exactly the same place on the summit as the first ascentionists from the Club Andino Bariloche.

Cerro_Solo_Threepeat_smLooking at these photo pairs allows us to see into the past.  The blue line on the right photo shows the approximate glacier surface level in 1949.  We can even see the movement of a large patch of rocks on the surface of the Torre Glacier between Marcus’ photo in 2009 and Colin’s photo in 2012.

To be noted is that the date on the Club Andino photo is 1950, as that is the date it was published, but the photo was taken in March 1949.  Because there are no records of exactly when many historic photos were taken, we often reference the date they were published instead.

For us this is the beginning of much more work getting people out to these places to repeat photos and see the changes first hand.  Many of the photos we have repeated and hope to have repeated are in places people pass regularly, and if you are interested in repeating photos, contact us!  Some big projects are afoot and we’re excited for the future!

Local Issues with Global Connections

Last week my Alpine of the Americas partner, Jonathan Byers, touched down in Santiago, Chile and made his way south to the tiny Gaucho town of Perto Bertrand to set-up base camp for the next five months. After two weeks, he’s already taught glaciology on the Northern Patagonia Ice Sheet, to high school students from Nido de Aguilas, an international school in Santiago. He’s helping them understand how their own homes are connected to these ice sheets, even though they are countless horizons away.

Yet we don’t have to travel across the world to see these changes. They are right here at home. Hurricane Sandy has been a huge lesson for the North East Coast and unfortunately for many people recognizing these changes takes them coming and knocking on our doors.  Even here in San Francisco, we have been touched and reminded how vulnerable we are.  In these challenging times it is rewarding to see is the humanity that arises when we are faced with a collective struggle.

The Earth’s changing climate is affecting us all but in many unique and unpredictable ways. Alpine of the Americas goal is to use simple, repeatable, and useful observations to help us tell the story of how our environments are changing. Few people read the scientific papers that tell us how the world is changing, so we strive to generate the content that stimulates conversations of how local communities must adapt to and mitigate climate change.

What this ultimately requires are local, personal connections. Its been 6 weeks since Jonathan and I took a group of Presidians to Yosemite to repeat historic photos of the Dana Glacier to be the first beings to witness the Sierra Nevada’s changes from a this unique perspective. This group became participants by capturing images that can tell the story of how our changing snowpack is affecting Californians today.

Morgan Matthews looks down on a lake below Mt. Dana

Morgan Matthews looks down on a lake below Mt. Dana

While these glaciers are an important legacy of past ice ages their value lies in how they are indicators of less water being stored in snowpack in the Sierra Nevada.  These mountains are the sole water source in the late summer for Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which provides 25% of the fresh drinking water for the City of San Francisco.  While these glaciers seem remote and disconnected from daily life, they are directly connected to the faucets that millions of people depend on every day. This week, the outcome of Proposition F will determine if the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission will spend $8 million to determine the feasibility of removing this dam.

We honor our participants who create this story through photographs, who tell it to help others understand that the safety and security of our lives depends on how we relate to the world.

In Chile, Patagoinia’s glaciers are diminishing too, but this is only an indicator of a larger story. Jonathan is now based at the heart of Chile’s largest environmental and social debate. Downstream from his guide cabin at Patagonia Adventure Expeditions, is the second largest alpine Ice Cap in the world. Glacier Lake Outburst Floods (GLOFs) from the Northern Patagonia Ice Sheet periodically discharge enormous masses of water down this already voluminous river. Yet downstream hidroAysen plans to build two hydrodams on the Baker River to generate energy for Chile’s copper mines thousands of miles north in the Atacama desert, even though the this high desert has the world’s highest yields for solar energy. Needless to say, hidroAysen’s risky investment of placing two dams on Rio Baker’s unstable hydrology is being criticized in Chile.

Santiago_Protests_QProtests against the proposed Baker and Pascua River Dams in Santiago last month. Photo by James Q Martin

The Nido de Aguilas students dream of an economy in which they can thrive. Economic progress is necessary, but unsustainable growth doesn’t necessarily create the desired end. Will 1,864 miles of power lines through Chile’s National Parks and/or into neighboring Argentina justify bringing energy to Santiago and the copper mines to the north, when alternatives exist? We’re skeptical. Alpine of the Americas helps individuals become part of the conversation, to stimulate discourse that influences decision makers. We do not claim to know the answers, but when faced with a crisis, we believe that people can work together to be proactive and create positive solutions for our changing world.