Image Data on the Historical Extension of Glaciers

The advancing Lower Grindelwald Glacier with the Mettenberg, painting by Caspar Wolf, 1774. Source: Museum of Fine Arts Bern.

Glaciers in mountain areas are highly sensitive to climate changes and thus provide one of nature’s clearest signals of warming or cooling including both conditions in the summer and winter half-year. Besides written evidence, pictorial representations of historic glaciers in the form of drawings, paintings and early photographs may allow reconstructions to be made of the former extension and volume of the ice since the early seventeenth century.

The Lower Grindelwald glacier in the Bernese Alps probably is the most highly researched "historic" glacier worldwide. Heinz Zumbühl investigated the positions of its tongue up to the late nineteenth century from more than 360 paintings, drawings and photographs in combination with detailed written narratives from village chroniclers and visiting natural scientists (Zumbühl 1980; Zumbühl 2009).

The Rhone Glacier close to Gletsch in 1855/56, photography. Source: Alexandre Pierre Bertrand / Association Valaisanne d’Images Anciennes.

This very early photograph was made by the Parisian portraitist and photographer Alexandre Pierre Betrand (1822-?) as a stereo-pair. He presented a first series of 100 photographs from Switzerland in 1857, to which this picture belongs (published with the authorisation of Yves Biselx, Association Valaisanne d'Images Anciennes.