January 31, 2024
Terminus of Little Hogate Glacier: left is August 8, 2005, right is August 4, 2021.
Back in 2021, Alaska Endeavour took Dr. Bruce Molnia into the Kenai Fjords to take photographs of glaciers. These were very specific photographs. They were taken from precisely the same locations as photographs taken as far back as 1908. The contrast is frightening. The new photos show how far the glaciers have receded, and in some cases, have completely disappeared. These then-and-now photos are powerful. I’ve shown them to people who deny climate change, and then they don’t.
One of these pairs of photographs was taken at the terminus of Little Holgate Glacier. The first, taken on August 8, 2005, shows Bruce standing in front of a monolith, pointing to a cave in the ice. The second, taken on August 4, 2021, shows Bruce standing in front of the same monolith, pointing to bare rock. No ice. No cave.
What’s interesting about this pair of photos really isn’t the missing glacier, it’s Bruce.
Like the monolith, Bruce is still standing. He is still collecting data that means something. He retired in 2016 after 42 years with the US Geological Survey, having authored or co-authored more than 500 publications, including the monumental 550-page Alaska ‘chapter’ of The Satellite Image Atlas of The Glaciers of the World. I believe Bruce knows more about glaciers in Alaska than anyone else on Earth.
Bruce, though, is not an activist. He is reluctant to talk about the causes of climate change in public. He doesn’t want politics to discredit the data.
On the other hand, Bruce was directly involved with the CIA’s MEDEA program, which made over 10,000 extremely high-resolution satellite images taken for intelligence purposes available to civilian environmentalists and others, for free. When the program was officially shut down after the 2000 election (in which Al Gore won the popular vote but lost in the Electoral College), Bruce almost single-handedly kept the database intact and alive until the program was reinstated in 2006. The data is still available, and still free.
This coming July, Alaska Endeavour is taking Bruce back to the glaciers to continue his work. We’ll pick him and a team up in Glacier Bay, photograph the Muir Glacier and others there, then head out and around Cape Spencer, heading up the Lost Coast, photographing glaciers in Lituya Bay (site of a 1,720-foot glacier-related tidal wave in 1958), the Hubbard Glacier and others in Yakutat Bay, then the giant Malaspina Glacier on the coast, and five others that empty into Icy Bay (site of a 500-foot glacier-related tidal wave in 2015). We’ll stop at Kayak Island and walk the beach where on July 20, 1741, the first European – Georg Steller – set foot in Alaska. We’ll end the expedition in Cordova, on the east side of Prince William Sound.
I hope, in a few years from now, we’ll be able to take Bruce back to the monolith at Little Holgate for one more visit.
-- Bill Urschel
The Endeavour in Northwestern Fjord on the 2021 glacier expedition.
For a free download of The Satellite Image Atlas of The Glaciers of the World, click here. For a webinar by Dr. Molnia he gave after our 2021 expedition, click here. To get access to the MEDEA imagery, click here.
We’re looking for sponsors for this upcoming expedition with Dr. Molnia. If you would like to support it, and perhaps join us, reach out to me at Bill@AlaskaEndeavour.org.