SCIENCE magazine (VOL 335, pg 1551) celebrated the launch of a new project led by INE’s Matt Nolan. “Data Rescue of the Austin Post Air Photo Collection” will digitalize, preserve, and extend scientific access to a collection of large-format photographs that document the size and topography of glaciers in Alaska, Canada, and Washington from 1960 to 1995. This project is funded by the National Science Foundation.
In later project phases, Nolan plans to combine digital photography, geo-location technology, and other
data to create new aerial images to make comparisons with the older imagery. Together with Post’s
original work, these images will give scientists a record of changes in the glaciers over a span of more
than 50 years.
UAF awarded Austin Post an honorary doctorate degree in 2004 to honor the transformative influence
his photos have had in the glaciological community. No other photographic archive documents the state
of glaciers in western North America from 1960-1995 so comprehensively. Yet currently the community
essentially has no access to most of these photos, as they exist only as roll-film negatives, currently
housed at the UAF Geodata Center.
“Photographs are data in disguise,” says Nolan, and Post’s photography has the power to inform us
on the rate, mechanisms, and evolution of glacier change and its impact on sea level rise during an
important and largely undocumented time. There is no more effective glaciological data set than a pair
of repeat photographs to demonstrate an unambiguous change. Through this project, the Post photos
and new photo comparisons will be available to anyone on-line through several scientific archive sites
and several publicly-accessible sites.
Matt Nolan, research professor in the Water & Environmental Research Center, studies glacier-climate
interactions and the impacts of shrinking glaciers on downstream ecosystems. He spends several
months a year in the field, collecting digital images, making photogrammetric and laser measurements,
extrapolating our ground measurements to the broader Arctic landscape, and laying down baseline
transects to assess future change.
To see more of Nolan’s images, visit http://ine.uaf.edu/werc/people/matt-nolan/
This pair of photographs, taken by Post, document the advance of the Variegated Glacier in south east Alaska during a surge in 1965. Austin’s annual photo flights captured the state of hundreds of glaciers in Alaska from the early 1960s through the mid-1990s, giving glaciologists at that time an excellent source of information, exceeding that provided by satellites.