Fluctuations in glaciers have been going on for thousands of years. But today the phenomenon is becoming dangerously fast. Glaciers are changing, shrinking increasingly at a rate never before recorded in the past. In Chilean Patagonia, the Exploradores glacier is melting at a rate of 4-6 cm a day. The same is happening in Alaska, and similar phenomena have been observed in Pakistan, in the Karakorum mountain range, and in the Caucasus, in Russia. These masses of ice are vanishing at a staggering rate and the scientific community has no doubts that the cause is global warming.
The sign of the climate
“On the Trails of the Glaciers” is a scientific comparative photography project launched in 2009 by the mountaineer and photographer Fabiano Ventura to show through images, comparisons, video reconstructions and topographical data how global warming is changing the landscapes of glaciers and perennial snowfields. During the "Andes 2016” expedition, the fourth of the project sponsored by Enel Green Power, Ventura and a team of researchers and filmmakers to Patagonia followed the footsteps of the Salesian missionary, photographer and ethnologist Alberto Maria De Agostini, who, between 1912 and 1945, shot an extensive photo reportage of the area. Ventura documented the same landscapes photographed by the missionary about 100 years before. The results of the expedition to Patagonia confirmed the findings of the previous three expeditions to the Karakorum, Alaska and the Caucasus. The comparison of the shots has clearly revealed that Patagonia's vast expanses of ice, like those that filled the valley of the Upsala glacier (70 kilometres long and over 10 kilometres wide), are vanishing as they retreat by dozens of kilometres.
The Glacier Atlas
The archive of images and data that Ventura is working on has been obtained by comparative photography and will very likely become the world's most important source of documentation dedicated to the glaciers of the Earth. As the photographer stressed, “One of the key accomplishments of this scientific initiative is that it includes expeditions to different mountain chains and glaciers, thus allowing researchers to have a broad global view.” Claudio Smiraglia, the project’s scientific director, explained that the dynamics of glaciers depend on a number of factors and, through the documentation work and the ‘archaeological’ and comparative approach of the research project, it is possible to observe the difference in behaviour of the glaciers and to identify a single cause for their rapid melting.
“The results of this research will allow scientists to obtain a clear general picture of the state of the glaciers that will tell us without doubt that glaciers are shrinking in the Karakorum, in Alaska, in the Caucasus and in the Andes”
Claudio Smiraglia, scientific director of the "On the Trails of the Glaciers” project
The photographer-mountaineer, energy and the planet's fever
“The aim of my project is to bear witness to the distress of the glaciers, to communicate the urgent need to change course and to raise the awareness of broader sections of public opinion on the consequences of climate change and on the responsibility of humans”.
“The Earth has not been given to us as a gift from our forebears, but on loan from our children”
Fabiano Ventura, photographer and mountaineer
“Nature teaches us humility and respect; its strength transcends any possible forecast. It is no longer possible to exploit it without respecting it”.
During the event, this concept was also stressed by Enel CEO Francesco Starace: “We look at the planet as it changes because of human activities, but we seldom stop to think about how humankind has changed. On the Trails of the Glaciers is actually a project that follows the footsteps of photographers and each expedition involves a huge preparation effort. Shooting photos of the glaciers by going back to the same places almost a century later, in the same spot, looking for the same stones, on the same day and at the same time is the true essence of this research project that transcends climate and the planet to embrace humankind. They are beautiful yet tragic photos”.
“The planet’s fever is now a glaring fact. We must eliminate greenhouse gases. Our commitment as an energy company is to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible by making our plants more efficient, promoting electric mobility, delivering electricity and replacing fossil fuels, wherever possible, with renewable energy sources”
Francesco Starace, Enel CEO
Sustainability and innovation in the glaciers
During the Andes 2016 expedition, over a thousand photos were shot, georeferenced and uploaded into a software to obtain a 3D model so that the glaciers can be visited virtually, thus enabling researchers to remotely observe and measure shapes and geometries and compare them with other 3D models developed by satellite imagery. All the technologies were developed as part of the GlacioVar scientific project which is funded by the Italian Government, in collaboration with La Sapienza University of Rome, the State University of Milan and the Macromicro Association. In addition to the most modern digital cameras, Ventura also took shots with analogue cameras to obtain the same focal distortion and to be able to perfectly overlay the images. The project will close in 2020, at the end of another two expeditions, one to the Himalayas and the last to the Alps.