Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Glaciers in meltdown

By Matthew Knight, for CNN
  • Stunning shots of world's glaciers show their retreat in recent decades
  • Scientists say glaciers are some of the best indicators of global climate change
  • Pioneering photographer Brad Washburn took photos of U.S. and Swiss glaciers
  • U.S. journalist David Arnold revisited glaciers to assess extent of glacial retreat

(CNN) -- The admission that flawed glacier data found its way into the 2007 report by the U.N.'s leading climate panel has dealt another blow to the organization's credibility and to climate science.

But climate scientists remain convinced that glaciers are in retreat.

Paul Valdes, professor of physical geography at the UK's University of Bristol told CNN: "The scientific data is continuing to show a widespread decline of these [Himalayan] glaciers and this remains an area of deep concern."

The error relating to Himalayan data is particularly embarrassing because glaciers allow scientists the opportunity to illustrate their complex scientific data with simple before and after pictures showing the true extent of glacier retreat over the past century.

Many of these changes in glaciers have been recorded in the U.N. Environmental Program study "Global Glacier Changes: facts and figures."

Others can be found in an exhibition currently touring the U.S..

In Double Exposure, images from the archive of pioneering mountain photographer Bradford Washburn have been placed alongside more recent photos taken by journalist David Arnold revealing the regression of glaciers in Alaska and Switzerland.

In 2005, Arnold was admiring Washburn's famous 1960 image of climbers on the Northeast ridge of Doldenhorn in Switzerland and started wondering what the peaks and glaciers Washburn had so expertly documented looked like now.

Soon enough, Arnold was off on the first of five flying expeditions to Alaska and the Swiss Alps.

Side by side Washburn's and Arnold's photos record the true extent of glacial retreat -- six and 14 miles respectively in the case of the Shoup and Guyot Glaciers in Alaska.

Arnold's painstaking attention has produced images which faithfully reproduce Washburn's angles and perspective. He even made sure he shot his photos on exactly the same day of the year, sometimes the same time as Washburn.

The pictures speak for themselves.

"I have found that pictures are powerful and I can virtually step aside from making pronouncements on global warming," Arnold told CNN.

Currently showing at the Science Museum of Oklahoma, Arnold hopes to one day publish the images in a book.