Photographs reveal Himalayan melt

Posted: 6 October 2011

Author: John Rowley

After four years research and eight photographic expeditions to the Himalayas, the mountaineer and photographer, David Breashears, has mounted an exhibition at the Royal Geographic Society in London, demonstrating the unprecedented melt of many of the regions glaciers.

Breasher, who has successfully reached the summit of Everest five times and directed the 1996 IMAX movie, has collected archival images of mountains, lakes and glaciers from the last century and placed them alongside his new ones, with spectacular effect. Retracing the steps of such photographic pioneers as George Mallory, Major E. O. Wheeler, Norman Dyhrenfurth and Vittorio Sella he has recapture their photographs of these mountain glaciers from an identical vantage point

The exhibition, Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya reveals that 'some of the region's 35,000 glaciers are melting 'at an unprecedented rate'.

Rongbuk Glacier
Click on image to enlarge.

Breashears says: "These then-and-now pictures have a powerful effect on the viewer, one that I hope will bring home the reality — and serious consequences — of climate change. Gazing at Italian photographer Vittorio Sella's 1899 picture of the Jannu Glacier in Nepal — a huge ice tongue filling a valley — and then comparing it to my 2009 photo, in which the glacier has disappeared, creates a profound sense of unease.”

Varying melt

Talking to Planet 21 after the opening of the exhibition this week, Breashears said that the melt rates vary widely. "In the East and Central Himalaya where precipitation comes from the summer monsoon the glaciers show a tremendous loss, with many new lakes."

"Further West there is less melt and greater  mass. "In the Karakoram, where there is just precipitation in the winter, the glaciers are in better shape. But more work is needed to fully understand what is happening."

Breashers said the photographs provide a benchmark for scientists in similar latitudes of the world. "We can extrapolate future trends from these images" he added "but reports from the field already show that in some years from now, reduced glacier flow will have serious consequences in the dry season. This seasonal flow is crucial for farmers and the wider ecosystem. The full implicatlons will reveal themselves over time.”

David Breashears is not alone in making this warning.  Orville Schelle, Director of the Asia Center on US-China Relations, says: “Many of the Greater Himalaya’s glaciers are in China, and the rivers that flow out these mountains and from these frozen reservoirs will help determine the fates of people from Afghanistan to the North China Plain.

" This exhibit of photographer and mountaineer David Breashears is a stunningly beautiful testament to what is at stake.“What the world chooses to do about climate change, will determine the fates of these glaciers and these peoples. "

Rivers of Ice: Vanishing Glaciers of the Greater Himalaya is being held at the Royal Geographical Society headquarters in South Kensington, London, until November 11. Entry is free.

See also www.glacierworks.org