Tag Archives: Alpine of the Americas

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!

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 jamesmartin.com

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.

Next Best Thing to a Time Machine

I’ve never gotten to go in a time machine but until they invent one repeat photography is about as close as I’ll get.

The process starts slowly:  mining the internet, talking to museum archivists, getting hundreds of old photographs with vague descriptions of locations from scientists, leafing through beautiful old books that are worth more than my camera, and ending up with thousands of historic photographs, sketches, and maps on my computer.Lago Dickson Threepeat

Days are spent pouring over maps and working in Google Earth to try to align mountains, glaciers, and ridges, figuring out the most likely area the photo was taken from and how to get there.  From this point it’s time to go to the nearest town, print out the black and white images on paper, load up my backpack with tent, stove, food, and camera gear and go into the mountains.  Some photos can be gotten on an afternoon run, others require multiple days of hiking to get to.

Then the psychology starts.  To find the precise location of  a photograph I find that I need to get into the mind of the photographer I am repeating.  Through repeating many photos I start to learn where different photographers liked standing and what subjects interested them. Alberto de Agostini, a mountaineer at heart, liked shooting from high ridges with grand views.  G.K. Gilbert, a photographer for the U.S. Geological Survey, really liked unique rocks and landscapes.  When I look with this knowledge I can almost intuitively know where they might have stood.Rio_Blanco_Perspectives_sm

Finally it clicks.  Walking along a ridge, seeing two boulders and thinking “Yep.  That is exactly where de Agostini stood.”  Seeing a rock outcrop and thinking, “If I were G.K. Gilbert, that is where I would have taken this photo from.”  And it all comes together.  Get the print out of my pocket, hold it up, and I have a window into the past.

Sometimes the changes are obvious, sometimes subtle, but standing in the same location and being able to see how it looked 50, 80, 100, years ago is an incredible experience.  The next best thing to a time machine: a time window.

Don’t take my word for it, go try it!Fitz_Road_sm