On the Trails of the Glaciers; Retracing the Steps of a Famous Early 20th Century Expedition through the South Asian Karakorum Range near the Lofty Peak of K2 Reveals That the Region's Glaciers Are Shrinking in Response to a Warming Climate

Article excerpt

On the Trails of the Glaciers is a multidisciplinary project, combining photography and science, to study the effects of climate change on the glaciers of the most important mountains of the world.

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The project's primary goal is to record current photographic images that reproduce the views of remote mountain recorded early in the 20th century by illustrious explorer/photographers. These new images give scientists and investigators the basis for comparative observations on the state of the largest glaciers in the world, which are valuable and extremely sensitive indicators for assessing the current climate and how it has changed over time.

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The project mounted its first expedition in 2009 to mark the 100th anniversary of the Duke of Abruzzi's 1909 expedition to Karakorum. The main goal of the original scientific and mountain-climbing expedition was to climb K2. Although the group could not reach the peak, it did make it to the top of the 7,500-meter Bride Peak, the highest elevation anyone had achieved at that time. This expedition became famous for the abundant scientific data it collected and for Vittorio Sella's stunning photographs of this remote and starkly beautiful region. Twenty years later, Aimone di Savoia, the Duke of Spoleto, led another important expedition with the geographical objective of exploring the basin of the Baltoro glacier. Several Italians were involved in the expedition, including geologist Ardito Desio and photographer and cameraman Massimo Terzano, who recorded still images as well as producing a film documentary.

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Inspired by the centenary celebration, On the Trails of the Glaciers assembled a team of mountaineers, scientists, and photographers to retrace the steps of the two historic expeditions and to produce new versions of the photographs taken by Vittorio Sella and Mas-simo Terzano. Through direct comparison of old and new pictures the team was able to highlight differences that the slow flow of time made imperceptible even to the most careful viewer.

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The scientific observations of the glaciers' extensions, the moraines, snowfall, avalanches, and general geomorphologic status have been directed by two of the world's leading experts in the field of glaciology: Claudio Smiraglia, professor at the University of Milan and former president of the Glaciological Italian Committee, and Kenneth Hewitt, research associate at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Canada, and founder of the university's Cold Regions Research Centre. Hewitt, a leading authority on the Karakorum glaciers, has been constantly in contact with the team, providing guidance on where to take photos and what scientific data to collect. …