Revealing our melting past: Toward a digital library of historic glacier photography

Revealing our melting past: Toward a digital library of historic glacier photography

Material Description

NSIDC's Analog Archives Collection houses more than 20,000 glacier photograph prints. William O. Field compiled one subset of this collection, roughly 5,000 prints, including many taken by Harry F. Reid, "America's first geophysicist." Reid traveled to Glacier Bay, Alaska, in 1890 and 1892 in order to photograph and map the area. Collected by Field after Reid's death in 1945, the materials also include approximately 600 glass plate negatives and prints, 22 expedition notebooks, and about 1 cubic foot of manuscript materials (including drafts of Reid's map of Glacier Bay). Some of these images have been digitized, but not the entire collection. Other subsets include 13 Rocky Mountain National Park Glacier Survey Reports and the accompanying 264 glacier photographs; 79 terrestrial photographs taken by Fred D. Ayres in Peru during the 1950s; 360 images of Colorado's Arapaho Glacier taken in the early 1900s by Junius Henderson (first curator of the CU Museum); and over 1,200 photographs of Greenland glaciers, donated by the U.S. Coast Guard. Images from southern Colorado, Glacier National Park, the Cascades, and much of Alaska across several decades are also included in the collection. Funding for digitization and archival work at NSIDC is no longer available, so a complete description of the entire collection is not possible at this time. NSIDC's collection of prints is fragile. To view the collection, users must travel to NSIDC; or NSIDC staff may search the print collection for users.


The climate is changing rapidly. The answer to the question of how rapidly, however, depends directly on how long relevant data can be analyzed. Archival data, then, which predates the satellite era, is essential to the study of climate change over time. The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) is responsible for managing, archiving, and disseminating cryospheric and polar data. Today, these data are digital. However, hidden within the NSIDC is a collection of historical archival materials that record the earth's glaciated regions prior to modern data gathering methods, and this archive has no dedicated archivist. We seek to digitize the entirety of the archive's print glacier photograph collection in order to enable new scientific discoveries related to climate change, and to help tell the story of a warming planet to the public and policy makers. This project will be a rapid prototype for potential future collaborations.


Digitizing Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded


Year Added



The University of Colorado Boulder


  • Mr. Jack Maness

Collaborating Institution(s)

National Snow & Ice Data Center

Date Range

1880 - 1950

Geographic Scope

Primarily North and South America and the Arctic, but also glaciated regions in Europe.


  • 9000 Photographs