Aerial photos reveal alpine climate change

New photographs from a researcher at the University of Dundee have revealed a huge reduction of glacier ice in the Alps, putting into stark focus the effect of climate change in the region.

Kieran Baxter from the University’s Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design (DJCAD) took the photos in mid-air, from the exact elevation that 20th century balloonist Eduard Spelterini took his famous alpine photographs in 1909.

This has allowed a direct visual comparison of the landscape now and then, and documents the effects of a century of climate change on the Mer de Glace glacier in France.

Using modern photogrammetry techniques, Kieran was able to precisely pin-point the exact position he needed to be to replicate Spelterini’s images.

He said, “We had to go up to around ten times the height that a drone would normally fly to reach the point at which we correlated with Spelterini’s original photos –  this is even more impressive given he reached this in a gas-filled balloon. 

“His pioneering work is the basis for our project and has given us a fantastic historical reference point to highlight the effect of climate change in the region. Using his original twelve images, captured on his glass-plate camera as he sailed over the peaks, we were able to calculate the GPS coordinates to track his flight and head back to Chamonix to replicate the shots from a helicopter.”

Applying the recent images to a 3D animation, Kieran has also been able to create a unique glimpse of the true extent of how climate change has affected the alpine glaciers.

Kieran said, “Side-by-side the images show a huge drop in the glacier surface that reveals a staggering loss in the volume of ice. When we reached the altitude we needed, it was a jaw-dropping moment – we could see clearly how much the landscape had changed over the century.

“We can turn both sets of images into 3D models, allowing the public to see first-hand the extent of change in this mountain landscape.”

Kieran was joined on his expedition by DJCAD alumnus and adventure-filmmaker Kieran Duncan, who helped create a time-lapse film of the project and the changes in the Alps.

The team now hopes to carry out a similar project focusing on the glaciers in Iceland.

For media enquiries contact:
Dominic Glasgow
Media Relations Officer
University of Dundee
Nethergate, Dundee, DD1 4HN
Tel: +44 (0)1382 385131