Weekend Diversion: Jewels of the World

“Glaciers are almost gone from Glacier National Park.” –Donella Meadows


This world is full of beautiful things that are simply awe-inspiring. Some of them are very much man-made, such as this 2007 song by Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby,

Crown Of Jewels.
But others took thousands of years to form.

Image credit: deleted flickr user, of Franz Joseph Glacier in New Zealand.

In many great places all over the world, glaciers are an incredible wonder to behold. Carving valleys, rivers and lakes over thousands of years, they are one of our planets great examples of how slow processes can make fantastic changes over long amounts of time.

But in most places on Earth, they may not be for much longer.

Some glaciers retreat as a specific region of the world randomly gets warmer, other glaciers thicken as it stays at lower temperatures. But over the last 150 years, correlated very strongly with increases in industrialization, we have seen a global retreat of glaciers.

Image credit: Robert Rohde.

This ranges from Antarctica, above, where the Larsen B ice shelf — the size of the U.S. state of Rhode Island — is collapsing due to ice retreat, to the Arctic, below.

Image credit: Earth Observatory at NASA.

Helheim Glacier in Greenland has seen a retreat of 5 kilometers over just four years, from 2001 to 2005.

But perhaps the most spectacular glacier retreat available to view comes from a series of photos taken over a timespan of 52 years.

Image credit: the National Snow and Ice Data Center and M.T. Millett.

Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier, just 12 miles from Juneau, is shown above as it was in 1958. Now, it’s important to state that measuring one glacier’s retreat isn’t incontrovertible proof of anything more than a local warming effect.

Image credit: M.M. Miller.

But as can be shown, what’s happening to Mendenhall, as photographed above in 1985, is happening to most glaciers all over the world. Many are shrinking, others are disappearing completely. It isn’t proof of global warming, but the evidence is getting harder and harder to ignore.

Image credit: Matt Beedle.

And sadly, as Matt Beedle’s photo from 2003 shows, Mendenhall is shrinking at an unfortunately fast rate. In fact, I don’t think it’s ever made me as sad to look at as beautiful a landscape as the photo below.

Image credit: Matt Beedle.

Fifty-two years. Less than one human lifetime. And that’s all its taken to turn one of nature’s most spectacular, imposing presences into a shrunken shell of its former self. Although it’s large enough that it’s not in danger of disappearing anytime soon, it’s still an alarming change.

And it’s happening all over the world.

So appreciate what we have while we have it, both this weekend and as long as it’s around, and thanks to Matt for sharing his fabulous images with us!