The process of getting data has improved!  Click the Download Data tab below to view all options for retrieving data. Read all about the new layout here.
Data Set ID:

Glacier Photograph Collection, Version 1

The Glacier Photograph Collection is a database of digital photographs of glaciers from around the world, some dating back to the mid-19th century, that provide an historical reference for glacier extent. As of September 2017, the database contains over 16,600 photographs.

This is the most recent version of these data.

  • Glaciers/Ice Sheets > Glaciers
Data Format(s):
  • JPEG
  • TIFF
Spatial Coverage:
N: 81, 
S: -43, 
E: 180, 
W: -180
Spatial Resolution:
  • Varies
Temporal Coverage:
  • 1 January 1857 to 26 September 2015
(updated 2015)
Temporal ResolutionVariesMetadata XML:View Metadata Record
Data Contributor(s):National Snow and Ice Data Center (comp.).

Geographic Coverage

Search Database: Get data using a database search interface.

As a condition of using these data, you must cite the use of this data set using the following citation. For more information, see our Use and Copyright Web page.

National Snow and Ice Data Center (comp.). 2002, updated 2015. Glacier Photograph Collection, Version 1. [Indicate subset used]. Boulder, Colorado USA. NSIDC: National Snow and Ice Data Center. doi: [Date Accessed].

Back to Top

Collapse All / Open All


The National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) in Boulder, Colorado houses thousands of photographic prints of glaciers taken from the ground, the air, and from space. These photographs constitute an important historical record, as well as a data collection of interest to those studying the response of glaciers to climate change. A portion of the analog photographs have been scanned and made available in digital form, along with a large number of additional photographs that came to NSIDC in digital form. NSIDC partnered with the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP) and the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC) to digitize selected photographs and make them available through a searchable interface and are retrievable by glacier name, photographer name, date, country, state, and geographic coordinates. Most of the photographs are of glaciers in the Rocky Mountains, the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Greenland. However, the collection does include a smaller number of photos of glaciers in Europe, South America, the Himalayas, and Antarctica. Updates to the Glacier Photograph Collection are ongoing but occur at irregular intervals. The collection includes a number of sub-collections or Special Collections that are distinguished in some way, as described in the documentation. For example, there is special collection of Repeat Photography of Glaciers that provides a unique look at changes in glaciers over time. The photos are available online via a searchable interface and are retrievable by glacier name, photographer name, date, country, state, and geographic coordinates.

Background Information

Glaciers are sensitive to the temperature and precipitation fluctuations accompanying climate change. Many of the world's glaciers are retreating in response to warmer temperatures. This retreat is often marked by an obvious change in glacier terminus location. For an example, see Mountain Glaciers on the NSIDC State of the Cryosphere Web page. Because of this sensitivity to climate change, historical photographic collections of glaciers are important to the study of the climate record.

NSIDC's Analog Archives Collection houses more than 20,000 glacier photograph prints as well as approximately 100,000 imaged on microfilm. This collection of prints is fragile; and to view the collection, users must travel to NSIDC; or NSIDC staff may search the print collection for users. Because of this, the climatologically and historically significant analog collection has relatively few users. To help rectify this situation, NSIDC partnered with the NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP) to digitize a large portion of the photographic prints and make them available through a searchable interface. NSIDC released the first iteration of the digital Glacier Photograph Collection in December 2002.

CDMP was a partnership between NOAA and private industry to image and key paper and microfilm records and then make them available online to members of the climate and environmental research community, as well as the public at large. In partnership with NOAA and the CDMP program, additional glacier photographs, numbering in the thousands, were scanned and added to the online collection at NSIDC. The CDMP program ended in 2011. As of 2016, we are planning to digitize the remaining photographic prints in the analog collection in partnership with the Digital Library at the University of Colorado at Boulder (CU). This partnership is made possible by a grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR).

The digital Glacier Photograph Collection began with a little over 1,000 photographs in 2002 but has grown to over 16,600 as of August 2016. Through the years, it has also grown to encompass special collections of glacier photographs that include Repeat Photography of Glaciers, the Antarctica Dry Valleys Glacier Photographs, NASA Astronaut Glacier Photographs, DAHLI IGY Glacier Photographs, National Park Service Glacier Surveys Report, and photographs from the World Glacier Monitoring Service. For more information on these, see the Special Collections section of this document.

The Glacier Photograph Collection is one component of the Global Terrestrial Network for Glaciers (GTN-G). GTN-G is the framework for the internationally coordinated monitoring of glaciers and ice caps in support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Detailed Data Description


Images are available in JPEG (.jpg) and TIFF (.tif) format and are provided in three sizes: thumbnail, reference, and high-resolution archive. When you order the high-resolution image, it is accompanied by an associated metadata file in ASCII text (.txt) format. Table 1 provides information about image dimension and size and Table 2 describes the metadata fields associated with each image.

Table 1. Image Format, Dimension, and Size
Type Format Width (pixels) Size
Thumbnail JPEG 150 ~20 KB
Reference JPEG 640 15 KB to 2 MB
High-resolution JPEG and TIFF Ranges from 1800 to 6600 29 KB to 320 MB

Table 2. Metadata Description that Accompanies the High-Resolution Images
Metadata Field Description Value can be blank
Photo ID A unique identifier for the photograph. See the File Naming Convention section for a description of how these are created. No
Glacier Name The name of the glacier. If the name is unknown then Unknown is used. If the photograph does not actually contain a glacier then it is labeled as NoGlacier. No
State/Province The state, province, region, or county where the glacier resides. Yes
Country The country where the glacier resides. Yes
Latitude The latitude of the glacier itself and not the location of the photographer. Yes
Longitude The latitude of the glacier itself and not the location of the photographer. Yes
Photo Date The date the photograph was taken in the form YYYY-MM-DD. Yes
Image Dimensions (pixels) The physical dimensions of the high-resolution image in pixels. No
Image Type The format of the high-resolution image, either TIFF (.tif) or JPEG (.jpg). No
Image File Size The file size of the high-resolution image in KB or MB. No
Documentation The URL to documentation for the photograph. No
Photographer Name Name of the photographer who took the photo. If the full name is know then it is used, otherwise first and/or middle initials are used. Note: Some photographer names may be Flickr and Wikimedia usernames. If the photographer name is not know, it is set to Unknown. No
Source The person or entity that provided the photos if known. Yes
Notes Any additional notes that are pertinent to the photograph. The Notes field was added to capture additional information that glaciologists using the database may be able to supply about individual images or to record errors or uncertainties in metadata if they are known. In addition, the Notes field may contain descriptive information that NSIDC has collected either from the photographs, photographers, or photo collector. Yes
Publisher The entity or organization that published the photographs. No
Rights Copyright information for the photograph. Yes
Citation The full citation for use of the image. No
Credit Provides credit to the submitting entity, person, or journal article/book. Yes
Original Media Describes whether the photograph started as a photographic print that was digitized or whether it was taken with a digital camera. The values can be Photographic print, Photographic slide, Photographic negative, Microfilm, Digital photograph, or Drawing. No
Description Further description of the Original Media field. Yes
Photograph Number If the photos are part of a series, this is the number of the photo in that series.
Keywords A keyword that can be set to describe what part of the glacier is shown in the photograph. The possible values are Terminus, Medial moraine, Terminal moraine, Lateral moraine, Firn line, All of glacier, Rock glacier, and Other. Note: Due to the labor intensive nature of adding keywords for each photograph, only glaciers in the first release of about 1,000 photographs have keywords assigned. The keyword heading for glaciers in all subsequent releases are blank. Yes
Other Glacier Lists other glaciers that are also visible in the photograph. NSIDC added Other Glaciers and Notes fields to the metadata database in 2005. The Other Glaciers field may be blank even if other glaciers are in the image. Yes
Background color on
File Naming Convention

This section explains the file naming convention used for this product with examples. The file names of all of the photographs were created with the Photo ID followed by the image format extension. Most Glacier Photograph Collection Photo IDs are assigned at NSIDC based on the name of the glacier, the year/month/day of the photograph, and an index number; however, there are exceptions to this rule that are noted below. Note that all three sizes of the image of a particular glacier photo (thumbnail, reference, and archive) have the same base file name but may have a different extension (.jpg or .tif) depending on the format. The associated ASCII text metadata file also has the same filename as the photograph but with a .txt file extension.

Example File Name: agassiz1913081501.tif

Generic File Name: glacier_nameYYYYMMDDXX.ext


Table 3. File Naming Convention
Variable Description
glacier_name The name of the glacier
YYYY 4-digit year that the photo was taken. If the year is not known 9999 is the fill value.
MM 2-digit month of the year the photo was taken. If the month is not known 99 is the fill value.
DD 2-digit day of month that the photo was taken. If the day is not known 99 is the fill value.
XX 2-digit photo index number
.ext File extension: .jpg, .tif or .txt

Exceptions to File Naming Convention

NoGlacier and Unknown Glaciers

Users should note that photographs without glaciers have a Photo ID starting with noglacier and a glacier name of NoGlacier. Images without glaciers are provided as a reference for historical context. For example, some of the NoGlacier images are photographs of the surrounding area of the glacier. Unidentified images where the name of the glacier is not known are given a Photo ID starting with unknown and given a glacier name of Unknown in the database.

Photographs by Reid

For the Reid collection, the Photo IDs are similar to charpentier1892_353, which refers to the glacier name, the 4-digit year the photograph was taken, and the 3-digit number assigned to the photograph by Reid. See the Analog Collection for more information about these photographs.

Photogrpahs of Greenland Glaciers

For the Greenland collection, the Photo IDs are based on the glacier name, followed by the characters GI, then a 2-digit box number, and finally a 2-digit slide number within each box. For example, the glacier identifier of hayesGI01_02 refers to Hayes Glacier in Box 1 and it is the second slide from that box. See the Analog Collection for more information about these photographs.

NPS Glacier Survey Reports

The Photo IDs for the National Park Service (NPS) Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) Glacier Survey Reports are assigned based on the 4-character park code, the 4-digit year of the RMNP report, the name of the glacier, the 4-digit year of the glacier photograph, and a 2-digit unique identifier used with every photograph. The first eight characters of the Photo ID are coded to match the photographs in the original report. For example, the Photo ID of rmnp1939_andrews190901 refers to the RMNP report from 1939 of Andrews Glacier which was taken in 1909 and it was the first in the series. See the Special Collections section for more information on these photographs.

Austin Post and USGS ICP Aerial Photographs

The Photo IDs for the Austin Post and USGS ICP aerial photographs are assigned based on the original photograph print number beginning with USGS, the 2-digit year the photograph was taken, camera angle (V: vertical, H: horizontal), 1-digit roll number, and 3-digit image number. For example, the Photo ID of USGS92V1_053 references that USGS was the supporting project, that the photograph was taken in 1992, that the image was a vertical camera angle, and that it was Image 53 on Roll 1. See the Analog Collection for more information about these photographs.

Antarctica Dry Valleys Glacier Photographs

The Photo IDs for the Dry Valleys photographs were created by the Data Conservancy group at Johns Hopkins University. They begin with McDV_FieldPhoto referencing the McMurdo Dry Valleys, followed by the 4-digit year the photo was taken, and then a 5-digit photo counter number. For example, McDV_FieldPhoto_1993_00311 is photo 311 of the 1993 season. See the Special Collections section for more information on these photographs.

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve Collection

The Photo IDs for the Lake Clark National Park photographs all begin with lacl_. The rest of the ID is a differing combination of the image number, with or without the glacier name and the photograph date. For example, lacl_1987_ahoglacier_870817_diff8, lacl_dsc00195, and lacl_img_0034. See the Special Collections section for more information on these photographs.

Background color on
Spatial Coverage
GPC Spatial Coverage Map
Figure 1. Map Showing Location of Glaciers in this Data Set as of June 2015. Image from the GTN-G Glacier Browser.
Click for a high-res version.

The photographs are primarily of glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, the Pacific Northwest (U.S. and Canada), and the Rocky Mountains, along with some from Europe and South America. The latitude and longitude reported for each photograph is the location of the glacier, not the point from which the photograph was taken. The Glacier Photograph Collection refers to glaciers in the mountain ranges along the Alaskan/Canadian border as occurring in both Alaska and Canada. Figure 1 shows a map with the location of glaciers in this data set.

Background color on
Temporal Coverage

The earliest glacier photograph in the Glacier Photograph Collection is from 1857, and the most recent is from 2015. Some photographs are of the same glacier and comprise a special Repeat Photograph Collection that provides a unique look at changes in glaciers over time.

Background color on

Software and Tools

Data Access
GPC Search Interface
Figure 2. Example of Results Generated From a Search of the Glacier Photograph Collection. Click image for larger version.

The Glacier Photograph Collection may be accessed at NSIDC through an online Search & Order interface. In addition, you can access the photos via a map server available from the GTN-G Glacier Browser.

From the NSIDC Search & Order interface, after completing a search, the thumbnail image can be obtained by right clicking (PC) or Ctrl clicking (Mac) on the thumbnail image in the search results in the Glacier Photograph Collection search interface (Figure 2). To obtain the reference image, click on the thumbnail image in the search results of the interface to load a separate Web page with the metadata and reference image (Figure 3) and then save it by right clicking (PC) or Ctrl clicking (Mac) on the reference image. To order a high-resolution archive image along with an ASCII text file containing the metadata, check the box to the left of the thumbnail of the glacier photograph in the search results (Figure 2). If you are finished searching, click Proceed to Order; or to continue your search and add to your order, click Start a New Search.

Sample Data Record

The following metadata and the image in Figure 3 are displayed if, for example, you click the Anchor Glacier (USGS84R2_079) thumbnail in the search results shown in Figure 2. Note: This metadata is provided as an ASCII text file when you order the high-resolution archive image.

You selected the following glacier id: USGS84R2_079.

Photographer Name : Post, Austin
Glacier Name : Anchor Glacier
Publisher : National Snow and Ice Data Center
Date of Original Media : 29 Aug 1984
State/Province : Alaska
Country : United States
Original Media : Microfilm
Description : 35mm microfilm
Photograph Number : 84R2_079
Notes : 84R2_079; AUG 29 '84; Anchor Gl.
Source : U.S. Geological Survey Ice and Climate Project Collection
Rights : Photograph held by the National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder. May be used freely if properly cited.
High Resolution Image Size : 13160 (KB)
Citation: Post, Austin. 1984 Anchor Glacier: From the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

Sample Glacier Image
Figure 3. Anchor Glacier photographed 29 Aug 1984 by Austin Post with associated metadata printed above.

Background color on

Data Acquisition and Processing

Data Acquisition Methods

The Analog Collection

NSIDC houses thousands of glacier photographs as prints and on microfiche. The largest single collection of print images at NSIDC, comprised of roughly 5000, is the American Geophysical Union/American Geographical Society (AGU/AGS) Collection, donated to NSIDC/World Data Center (WDC) for Glaciology by William O. Field in the late 1950's. Field was the head of the Department of Exploration and Field Research at the AGS from 1947 until he retired in 1969. Field took many of the photographs and assembled them for the AGU research committee. It was because of this collection, that in 1957, the International Geophysical Year (IGY) committee awarded the WDC for Glaciology to Field and named him as the first director. He maintained the collection until the WDC was moved to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in Tacoma, WA in 1970 and ultimately to Boulder, CO in 1976.

The photographs in the AGU/AGS Collection are primarily of Alaskan glaciers but also include the Pacific Northwest (U.S. and Canada), the Rocky Mountains, and Europe. Field indexed the photos by region and drainage system. For example, he indexed Alaskan glacier photos starting in the southeast corner of the state, continuing north and west, following each drainage basin in a counterclockwise direction. This method enables photos of neighboring glaciers to be filed next to each other. This filing system is used for the entire collection and subsequent donations are filed into this system as well. It is from this collection that the first photographs were selected for the CDMP digitization project.

The AGU/AGS Collection that Field donated to NSIDC/WDC for Glaciology also included the Harry F. Reid collection. Reid, America’s first geophysicist (Gillispie 1975), 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 include approximately 600 glass plate negatives and prints, 22 expedition notebooks, and approximately one cubic foot of manuscript materials that include drafts of Reid’s map of Glacier Bay. Also included are photographs taken during Reid’s trips to the Alps from 1894 through 1901. Users should note that some of the photographs taken by Reid were of the local area and not of an actual glacier. The Reid photographs without glaciers were given a glacier name of NoGlacier in the database.

Copies of the Austin Post aerial photograph collection became a part of the WDC for Glaciology collection when the WDC was transferred to the USGS in Tacoma in 1970. This collection of photographs, the Post-Mayo-Krimmel (PMK) Collection, comprises approximately 100,000 photographs, almost all of which are only available on microfilm at NSIDC.

The Greenland photograph collection was donated to the WDC for Glaciology in the mid 1980s by Captain Ron Kollmeyer of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). Captain Kollmeyer was the lead for the Greenland Glacier Survey. More than 1,200 color slides have been digitized and are available via the online Search & Order interface. The photographs of western Greenland glaciers were taken between 1969 and 1980 from ground observation stations and from USCG helicopters at an altitude of between 100 and 1,000 feet.

The WDC for Glaciology program was retired in the mid 2000's; the analog collection is now supported solely by the NOAA@NSIDC program. Unfortunately, NOAA@NSIDC does not have resources for storing all analog glacier photographs under archival quality conditions. As a consequence, some are in danger of deterioration. This gives urgency to our digitization work. Allowing researchers to access high-quality digital reproductions of these fragile and rare photographs limits the need to use the original archival image and aids in the preservation of the originals.

Analog to Digital - NOAA CDMP

Analog collection sample
Figure 4. A Selection of Glacier Photograph Prints Prepared for Shipment to the CDMP Contractor for Digitizing. Click image for larger version.

The NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program (CDMP) ran for 12 years from 2000 to 2011. In partnership with NOAA NGDC and SourceHOV, a CDMP corporate partner, NSIDC digitized selected analog photographs for online distribution. The goals of the CDMP Glacier Photograph Digitization Project were the following:

  • Make the photographs better known among the glaciological community and others
  • Increase availability of the images
  • Provide the highest-quality digital reproductions of the photographs available
  • Provide proper archival storage for the digitized subset of glacier photographs

NSIDC selected images for digitizing that were held by NSIDC with no copyright restrictions that were of good quality and that show substantial portions of glaciers. The original black-and-white photographic prints range in size from 2 x 3 inches to 8.5 x 11 inches. Figure 4 shows a picture of some of our analog archive holdings.

The following requirements were provided to the CDMP contractor for digitizing the photographs:

  • The reproductions should be an uncompressed archival image (TIFF), a compressed reference image (JPEG), and a thumbnail image (JPEG).
  • The archival image should be the highest-quality image possible (TIFF) with version 6.0 headers, uncompressed, unedited, at 600 dpi. Use 24-bit RGB color, 1800 to 6600 pixels across the long dimension, depending on the size of the original print. This resolution should be the actual optical resolution of the capture and not achieved by interpolation.
  • The compressed reference images should be saved in the JPEG format and will be 640 pixels on the long side of the image. This resolution should be the actual optical resolution of the capture and not achieved by interpolation. JPEG File Information Format (JFIF) headers will be used.
  • The thumbnail images should have a size of 150 pixels on the long side of the image in the JPEG compressed format. JFIF format/headers will be used.
  • The tonal range of the reproduced images should be representative of the original scene. General imaging industry standards, as well as standards established during the initial startup and testing phase, will be followed. There will be no clipping.
  • The reference and thumbnail images should be reduced in scale and sharpened and compressed, but the methods used to accomplish this shall not degrade the image. All derivative images shall maintain the general look and character of the archival images.
  • The software used to produce the digitized images shall meet requirements pertaining to spatial resolution, tonal distribution, and noise. Spatial resolution shall be determined by measuring the modulation transfer function of the capture system. The required resolution shall not be sampled up from a lower resolution.
  • Scanners and monitors should be calibrated at the start of the project and scanners should be re-calibrated with a change in media size twice each day: at the beginning of each day of digitizing and halfway through the digitizing. If more than one scanner is used, each lot must be kept separate, so that quality control can take into account the calibration that was done for each batch. Set monitor to 24 millions of colors, set gamma to 2.2 (1.8 for Macintosh), set color temperature to 6500 degrees, and calibrate to Standard Red-Green-Blue (sRGB).

The Digital Collection

Metadata for the digitized images are compiled at NSIDC in an Excel spreadsheet that is uploaded to a Postgres database. Metadata for the initial release of about 1,000 glaciers in 2002 was derived primarily from the Glacier Photograph Collection Index, a project started in the late 1970s by NSIDC staff. This index, or inventory of glacier names with metadata for some of NSIDC's analog glacier photograph collection, is housed at NSIDC on paper and on microfiche. The metadata covers many aspects of the individual photos, including the altitude at which a photograph was taken, date, photograph number, latitude/longitude, mountain range, and drainage system. Not all of the aspects were included in the metadata for the digitized images.

The keyword headings used for the Index project were Terminus, Medial moraine, Terminal moraine, Lateral moraine, Firn line, All of glacier, Rock glacier, and Other. Transcribing the Index information was too labor intensive to be sustained, so NSIDC assigned keyword terms by looking at the photographs. Only glaciers in the first release of about 1,000 photographs have keywords assigned. The keyword heading for glaciers in all subsequent releases are blank.

NSIDC used the USGS GNIS to look up geographic coordinates of most glaciers. For those glaciers that did not appear in the GNIS or when more than one entry for the same title appeared, NSIDC determined approximate coordinates by either referring to the original photos (for hand-written information from the photographer), or by doing Web-based research, including Topozone or Terraserver, to estimate coordinates near the middle of the glacier.

In some glaciers for which the Index or the GNIS did not supply geographic coordinates, the Alaska Atlas & Gazetteer (2001) or Hormes et al. (2001) provided coordinates.

In 2015, in order to facilitate the addition of more photos from crowd sourced photographic web sites like Flickr Creative Commons and Wikimedia Commons, the requirements for digital photos have been loosened, thus some high-resolution photos are suitable for digital applications but are not suitable for print.

Special Collections

As the Glacier Photograph Collection has progressed over the years, a need to identify special collections within the main collection arose based on type of images, the region, or the entity that compiled them. It began with the Repeat Photography of Glaciers collection in 2006 with five other special collections added as of 2015.

Repeat Photography of Glaciers
Repeat glacier pair example
Figure 5. Muir Glacier Pair
On the left is a photograph of Muir Glacier taken on August 13, 1941, by glaciologist William O. Field; on the right, a photograph taken from the same vantage on August 31, 2004, by USGS geologist Bruce F. Molnia. According to Molnia, between 1941 and 2004 the glacier retreated more than twelve kilometers (seven miles) and thinned by more than 800 meters (875 yards). Ocean water has filled the valley, replacing the ice of Muir Glacier; the end of the glacier has retreated out of the field of view. The glacier's absence reveals scars where glacier ice once scraped high up against the hillside. In 2004, trees and shrubs grow thickly in the foreground, where in 1941 there was only bare rock. Click image for a high-resolution version.
Image Credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center, W. O. Field, B. F. Molnia.

As Harrison wrote in 1960, "The glacier story is always changing, but it can be caught and preserved with the proper use of a camera" (pp 1). Glacier photographs taken from the same vantage point but years apart in time often show changes in the glacier terminus position that may be indicative of climate forcing. Tidewater glaciers may exhibit shorter term cycles of terminus advance and retreat as well. These repeat photographs are of special interest to glaciologists. The Glacier Photograph Collection contains many photographs of the same glaciers, but relatively few repeat photographs.

This special collection displays photographs of the same glacier, taken from the same vantage point, at the same time of year, but taken many years apart. These photographs can show evidence of glacier and climate changes over time. Repeat photography can reveal dramatic changes in the glacier terminus position, as a glacier either advances or retreats. Most glaciers around the world have retreated at unprecedented rates over the last century. These pairs of photographs can provide striking visual evidence of climate change.

In March 2006, Dr. Bruce F. Molnia, a glaciologist with USGS, collected and contributed repeat glacier photographs. He had taken many of the later ones himself and had digitized the earlier ones from data collections. These are identified in the Source metadata field as U.S. Geological Survey (distinguished from USGS Photo Library, which refers to USGS historic collections). Notes and Keyword metadata fields are based on information from Dr. Molnia. In June of 2006, Matt Nolan donated repeat photographs to this collection; and Lonnie G. Thompson contributed repeat photographs in July of 2007. Figure 5 shows an example of the glacier pairs found in this special collection of 110 photographs. To access this subset, see the Search & Order interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have Repeat Glacier Photographs selected.

National Park Service Glacier Survey Reports

RMNP began conducting glacier surveys at the request of Francois E. Matthes in 1932. The National Park Service donated copies of the glacier survey reports to Matthes for the International Committee on Glaciers (now called the International Association of Cryospheric Sciences). For a history of the committee from 1894 to 1994 and its subsequent transformations, see the The International Commission on Snow and Ice (ICSI) and its Precursors, 1894-1994 PDF document (Radok 1997). Matthes later donated his collection to NSIDC/WDC for Glaciology. NSIDC holds reports from the years 1932-1952; these reports include 265 glacier photographs. Several of the reports combine more than one year into one report, and not all of the reports contain photographs. The 265 images in the reports were digitized and added as the National Park Service Glacier Photographs special collection in January 2008. To view the photographs in context, see the associated PDF file listed below:

Note: Metadata in the Notes field were taken from the captions associated with the photographs in the reports.

To obtain high-resolution versions of the photographs from the park reports, see the Search & Order interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have National Park Service Glacier Photographs selected.

To cite the photographs from the reports, see the section on Citing these Data. To cite the digital reports (PDF files) use the following format:

Author’s last name, first name. Year published. Title. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. URL to the PDF report at NSIDC.

For example:

Gregg, H. R. 1939. Glacier Survey, Rocky Mountain National Park. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center.

DAHLI IGY Glacier Photographs

This special collection is from Alaskan glacier surveys led by William O. Field during IGY, 1957-1958 that was a follow on to the first two International Polar Years (IPY) 1882-83 and 1932-33. Glaciology was one of the primary research areas studied during IGY. Discovery and Access of Historic Literature from the IPYs (DAHLI) program (now called the International Polar Year Historical Data and Literature collection) sought to locate, identify, preserve, catalog, and digitize data, literature, photographs and other materials from the first three IPY events: 1882-1883, 1932-1933, and 1957-1958 (IGY).

These photos, taken between 1957 and 1959, represent an attempt to systematically study glacier change in Alaska. These 2154 images comprise the DAHLI IGY Glacier Photograph collection and were added to the broader Glacier Photograph Collection in March 2008. To access this collection, see the Search & Order interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have DAHLI IGY Glacier Photographs selected.

NASA Astronaut Glacier Photographs

Added in June 2010, this special collection of 500 photographs was taken by NASA astronauts on the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle Endeavor. These photos were taken between 1994 and early 2010. The photos were collected in collaboration with the NASA Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth project. The goal is to make these photos more widely available and discoverable. To see the photos, go to the Search & Order Interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have NASA Astronaut Glacier Photographs selected.

Antarctica Dry Valleys Glacier Photographs

This special collection of 24 photos, added in March 2011, consists of field photographs from the McMurdo Dry Valleys region of Antarctica. While the valleys themselves are notably ice-free, a number of glaciers terminate in the valleys, some acting as outlets to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet. Studies show that the majority of the glaciers in this area are receding. Glaciers were photographed in the course of geologic studies and help document the conditions of the glaciers and how they may have changed. These photos were originally made available through a pilot project of the Data Conservancy at Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Prior to December 2014, the high-resolution digital images were archived at JHU. After that, the collection of 24 images was moved to the archive at NSIDC when the pilot instance of the Data Conservancy was decommissioned. To see the photos, go to the Search & Order Interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have Antarctica Dry Valleys Glacier Photographs selected.

WGMS Glacier Photographs

The World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) compiles and disseminates standardized observations on glacier fluctuations such as length, area, volume, and mass. This special collection of 1192 photos, added in May 2015, focuses on photographs of glaciers for which long fluctuation series are available, some of them dating back to the 19th century. The photos were assembled from the WGMS archive, from contributions from WGMS principal investigators, and from various other sources that provide freely available data. The main sources include the WGMS Fluctuations of Glaciers (FoG) database, the archive of Bavarian Glaciers, the Glaciers Online collection prepared by Jürg Alean and Michael Hambrey, photos from the Interactive Repeat Photo Comparisons of Various Swiss Glaciers project conducted by Simon Oberli, the Swiss Glacier Monitoring Network, and work shared by researchers and students associated with the WGMS. Additionally, photographers who freely share their work on platforms such as Flickr Creative Commons and Wikimedia Commons contributed significantly to this collection.

Most photographs in this collection were born digital. In some instances, photographer names are Wikimedia or Flickr usernames under which the photographers published their work. Image size and resolution vary widely; while some images may be of print quality, others offer resolutions limited to digital applications. The collection was assembled by WGMS/NSIDC graduate interns Rebecca Navarro, Julien Bodart, and Mylène Jacquemart in late 2014 and early 2015. For more details on the development of this special collection, see the WGMS Internship Report: Growing the Glacier Photograph Collection (Jacquemart 2015). To see the photos, go to the Search & Order Interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have WGMS Glacier Photographs selected.

Lake Clark National Park and Preserve Collection

This collection of 1173 photographs of glaciers in and around the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska was compiled by Jacob Zanon while he was a Natural Resource Specialist Intern in the GeoSpatial Services Department at Saint Mary's University, MN. The collection is comprised of many images of glaciers inside the park and preserve taken from both the air and the ground from 1987 through 1990 and in 2004 and 2007. J. Zanon collected all of the digital images and created the metadata for them. Once the images and metadata were transferred to NSIDC, they were reviewed for quality and accuracy by Ladina Gaus while she was interning at NSIDC as a graduate student in the Geography Department at the University of Zurich, Switzerland. She checked that all photographs, which show the same glacier, have the same coordinates because the coordinates in the metadata describes the location of the glacier and not the position where the photographer stood. Google Earth was very helpful for this analysis. Because most of the photos did not provide a glacier name, she attempted to determine them. To this end, she uploaded a Microsoft Excel file with the photo IDs and the corresponding coordinates as a shape file into QGIS and then merged it, by location, with the corresponding outlines from the GLIMS database. Additionally, she consulted maps and a satellite image atlas of Alaska by Williams and Ferrigno (2008). She was able to determine some glacier names, however, most glaciers in Alaska are unnamed. To see the photos, go to the Search & Order Interface; the Choose a Collection drop-down list will already have Lake Clark National Park Glacier Photographs selected.

Update History

The Glacier Photograph Collection was initially created in 2002 with a little over 1,000 photographs. It has since grown to comprise over 16,600 images as of August 2016. Table 4 provides a brief history of the development of the collection.

Table 4. History of the Glacier Photograph Collection
Date Event
February 2002 Began working with the CDMP to digitize a selection of analog glacier photographs that would be the beginning of the Glacier Photograph Collection.
December 2002 Initial release of Glacier Photograph Collection with approximately 1,000 photos digitized during the CDMP.
March 2006 Repeat Photography of Glaciers collection created with photos from Dr. Bruce Molnia.
June 2006 Additional photos contributed to the Repeat Photography of Glaciers collection with photos from Matt Nolan.
October 2006 215 photographs from the Harry F. Reid collection were added.
July 2007 Additional photos contributed to the Repeat Photography of Glaciers collection with photos from Lonnie G. Thompson bringing the collection to 110 photographs total.
August 2007 Over 1,200 photographs of Greenland glaciers, donated by the U.S. Coast Guard, were added.
January 2008 National Park Service Glacier Photographs special collection created with 265 photos.
February 2008 79 terrestrial photographs taken by Fred D. Ayres in Peru during the 1950s were added.
March 2008 DAHLI IGY Glacier Photographs special collection created with 2154 photos.
June 2008 Over 360 Arapaho Glacier images were added. These images are part of the H. A. Waldrop Arapaho Glacier Thesis Research Papers. Waldrop collected photographs of Arapaho Glacier taken in the early 1900s by Junius Henderson, first curator of the CU Boulder Museum. Using repeat photography techniques, Waldrop recreated Henderson's photographs for his thesis research completed in 1962.
June 2008 Also in June 2008, the first batch of aerial photographs taken by Austin Post and members of the USGS Ice and Climate Project (ICP) were added to the collection.  This collection was digitized from a 35 mm roll of microfilm and consists of approximately 13,600 images. The vast majority of the images were taken by Post and are thus described but others were taken by members of the ICP for USGS. For more information about the ICP collection contact the GeoData Center of the Geophysical Institute at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks where the original negatives are housed. 
June 2010 NASA Astronaut Glacier Photographs special collection created with 500 photos.
March 2011 Antarctica Dry Valleys Glacier Photographs special collection created with 24 photos.
May 2015 WGMS Glacier Photographs special collection added with 1192 photos.
August 2016 Lake Clark National Park and Preserve Collection added with 1173 photos.
Background color on
Sensor or Instrument Description

The photographs that make up this collection were taken with a range of cameras from mid-1800's box cameras to 21st century digital SLRs depending on the age of the photo. The cameras were located on the ground, on aircraft, on the U.S. Space Shuttle Endeavor, and on the International Space Station.

Background color on

References and Related Publications

Contacts and Acknowledgments


The NOAA Climate Database Modernization Program (CDPM) provided funding and programmatic oversight for digitizing many of the photos in the Glacier Photograph Collection. NOAA's Joseph Elms managed the program. The photos were digitized at CDMP Corporate Partner LASON Corporation, Beltsville, MD, under the direction of John Jacobs. Teresa Mullins, NSIDC Librarian from October 1999 through June 2004, initiated the digitization project, wrote the statement of work with imaging requirements for digitizing prints, and compiled metadata for the first set of images digitized. She also researched NSIDC's analog collection to provide background on W. O. Field's contribution of glacier photograph prints to the WDC for Glaciology, Boulder.

Allaina Wallace, NSIDC Data Archivist and Librarian from 2004 to 2014, curated the collection, overseeing the addition of thousands of scanned photographs through further work with the CDMP program and with the aid of a series of interns and student volunteers.

NSIDC glaciologist Dr. Richard Armstrong assisted in documenting the collection and with selecting photographs of greatest scientific interest for digitization. USGS glaciologist Dr. Bruce F. Molnia serves as an advisor to the project and assisted with the evaluation and documentation of our analog glacier photograph collection. Dr. Molnia also contributed repeat photographs.

Sincere thanks go to Mylène Jacquemart and Michael Zemp of WGMS for initiating and leading the 2015 update work. Ann Windnagel, Jon Davis, and Daniel Crumly carried out the work at NSIDC.

The NOAA@NSIDC team maintains this product at NSIDC. This work is supported by funding from NOAA's National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service (NESDIS) and NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Citing Individual Photographs

To cite individual photographs taken from the Glacier Photograph Collection, please use the following citation:

Photographer's name. Year photograph was taken. Name of glacier: From the Glacier Photograph Collection. Boulder, Colorado USA: National Snow and Ice Data Center. Digital media.

Document Information

Document Author

This document was originally prepared by T. Mullins. It has been updated by F. Fetterer, L. Husted, J. Wolfe, L. Ballagh, D. Miller, and A. Windnagel.

Document Creation Date

November 2002

Document Revision Date

January 2017 - A. Windnagel made minor updates to the Background, File Naming Convention, and Acknowledgments sections.
August 2016 - A. Windnagel updated the documentation to reflect the addition of the new Lake Clark collection.
June 2015 - A. Windnagel added a new spatial coverage map, added the GTN-G Data Browser to the list of Related Collections and Resources, put the document into the newest template, and updated all content including adding a description of the metadata.
May 2015 - A. Windnagel added information for the new WGMS collection.
March 2011 - A. Windnagel added information about the new Dry Valleys collection.
June 2010 - A. Windnagel added information about the Astronaut Glacier Photo collection and the new metadata files that now accompany a photo order.
April 2010 - A. Windnagel removed the text on submitting photographs and added a link to the Web page with this information.
December 2009 - A. Windnagel updated the number of glaciers that are available.
July 2009 - A. Windnagel updated this document to reference the new search and order interface and added a glossary.
March 2008 - L. Ballagh added information about the DAHLI Special Collection and regarding the February 2008 update for 79 glaciers in Peru.
January 2008 - L. Ballagh added information about the second special collection (National Park Service reports) based on input from A. Wallace.
November 2007 - L. Ballagh changed all of the references to the repeat photography. The correct title is Repeat Photography of Glaciers.
October 2007 - L. Ballagh changed scan to digitize in several places and updated the data set title.
August 2007 - L. Ballagh added information about the Greenland collection based on input from A. Wallace.
October 2006 - L. Ballagh added documentation about the Reid collection and updated the file sizes, based on correspondence with A. Wallace, F. Fetterer and J. Kovarik.
July 2006 - L. Ballagh updated the GLIMS Glacier Database hyperlink and changed the hyperlink of the repeat photograph sample image of Muir Glacier.
March 2006 - Documentation was updated to reflect the addition of the Repeat Photography of Glaciers.
January 2006 - Noted that photos were added in January 2006.
September 2005 - F. Fetterer added the section on contributing photographs.
July 2005 - F. Fetterer revised the format, updated information, included relevant content from the PDF Glacier Photograph Collection Users Guide, and removed access to the Users Guide. A. Wallace added information on WDC's analog collection.

No technical references available for this data set.
No FAQs or How Tos available for this data set.

Access complete Knowledge Base

Questions? Please contact:
NSIDC User Services
Phone: 1 303 492-6199