Repeat Photography and Glacial Shrinkage in Glacier National Park (Summary)

During the first part of my research, I read numerous scholarly articles, books, and other sources to learn about the history of Glacier National Park and how it will be influenced by climate change.

Here are the major points I gathered at this stage:

  • The glaciers in the park will likely melt by 2030 (which is part of global glacier loss).
  • Even if tourists do not explicitly travel to see glaciers, they come for the landscapes created by glaciers.
  • There may be a temporary boom in tourism as people flock to see glaciers before they are gone (“last chance tourism” described by Stewart et al.).
  • Climate change may increase tourism in the park, as warming will make weather conditions more favorable for tourists (“climate-dependent tourism” described by Jolley) and increase the summer season.

Like I described in my previous post, I was able to successfully recreate four photos for my repeat photography, and I was close to replicating a fifth. The map included in this post has yellow stars showing the approximate locations of where the original photographs were taken. I sorted through my photos and selected ones that had the best lighting, the most detail, and best matched the original photographs. You can look at my photos and read my analysis in Glacier National Park Repeat Photography.

MT_Waterton_Glacier_Int_Par

After I finished repeat photography, I focused on conducting interviews. It was more difficult than I anticipated, as I expected to find more groups of people that would be easy interview subjects. I did not have a set number of interviews in mind at the start of my research, as I wanted to get as many as I could. I ended up interviewing eight people (six residents and two tourists), and getting seven complete interviews. While my sample is small, I still noticed some commonalities in responses, and I was surprised by a few of my results.

Here are the major points I gathered from my interviews:

  • Of my eight total interviewees, not one expressed strong views against the existence of climate change.
  • When asked how they thought climate change would influence Glacier National Park, three residents answered that it would cause the loss of the park’s glaciers, while other responses ranged from not knowing climate change’s effects to describing the current fire situation in Montana.
  • When asked why they thought tourists came to the park, residents gave answers that emphasized wildlife, scenery, and the Going-to-the-Sun Road. No one mentioned glaciers.
  • When asked what they thought the park’s most important attraction is, residents listed multiple constructions (the Going-to-the-Sun Road, Lake McDonald Lodge, trails, Sperry Chalet) in addition to the mountains and lakes. Again, glaciers were not mentioned.
  • I hypothesize that residents did not mention glaciers because they are relatively difficult to access (for example, my hike to Grinnell Glacier was 13 miles roundtrip).
  • I also asked if seeing visual evidence of the shrinkage of glaciers (repeat photography) would alter their views, and all respondents indicated that their views would strengthen or remain the same. This supports the argument that repeat photography provides inarguable proof of climate change.
  • I asked respondents if they were familiar with Ansel Adams’s photography (to lead into a question about its influence on park tourism). The six residents were not familiar with Adams, while the two tourists were. I know my sample is too small to infer anything from this, but I think it is interesting.

Overall, I am happy with how my research has gone this summer. I have learned a lot about the processes of repeat photography and conducting interviews, and it was fascinating to learn more about the “Crown of the Continent.”

Sources Mentioned in this Post:

Jolley, Kelsey E. “Climate Change: Has it Impacted Visitation to National Parks in the United States?” Master’s thesis, University of Nebraska at Omaha, 2016. ProQuest (1859935329).

Stewart, Emma J., Jude Wilson, Stephen Espiner, Heather Purdie, Chris Lemieux, and Jackie Dawson. “Implications of climate change for glacier tourism.” Tourism Geographies 18, no. 4 (2016): 377-398. https://doi.org/10.1080/14616688.2016.1198416.

Comments

  1. gakokkoris says:

    Before reading your updates I had never heard of repeat photography, but I’m really glad to have learned about it through your research. Using photos similar to the ones you took and the photographers before you took will help people visualize climate change and hopefully help to push for better public policies. I really like how you were able to go to the park and take your own pictures instead of looking up recent photos online. This definitely gives you a better perspective on not only the issue of glacial shrinkage but the process of repeat photography as well. Your interview responses were surprising considering the park is named “Glacier National Park,” but the residents didn’t mention glaciers as a reason attracting tourists. After you mentioned the long hike it took to get to Grinnell Glacier, it would be interesting to see how far tourists are willing to hike to see things, or how close they stay to the “main” attractions of the park. After this project do you think you’ll try to do anymore repeat photography?

  2. Hi Sydney,

    What an interesting project, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your work. I had neither heard of repeat photography nor had I considered the connection between photography and perceptions of climate change, much like your interviewees, I suppose. I found it fascinating that none of your subjects mentioned the glaciers, especially considering the name of the park itself and the smaller sample size. Do you think that if the park were to make visitors more aware of the presence of the glaciers (despite the hike) this could, like repeat photography, strengthen their views on climate change by better illustrating it? (For those who did not indicate that global climate change could cause the parks to lose them.). Also, do you have any thoughts on how repeat photography, acting as evidence, could operate in a political sphere when it comes to climate change? Again, great work!