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Special Issue: Project “On the Trails of the Glaciers”, mission to Caucasus

Data:

07/06/2012


Special Issue: Project “On the Trails of the Glaciers”, mission to Caucasus

Thanks to the Author and Publisher’s kind concessions, we propose an article published by the Italian non profit association “Macromicro”, which led an expedition that took place in summer 2011 in the Caucasian mountains of Svaneti. The aims of the expedition were to carry out glaciological measurements and obtain high-resolution photographic images able to reveal glaciers evolution after more than 100 years from the missions of the first photographer and explorers – among them the Italian Vittorio Sella. The expedition has been patronized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“On the Trails of the Glaciers” is a photographic-scientific project of “Macromicro” which studies the effects of climate change combining photographic comparison and on-field scientific research.
Upper Svaneti, lying against the majestic peaks of the Great Caucasus, is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List since 1966.
See also Special Issue: Svaneti Towers

 

Caucasus was chosen as a significant destination of the second expedition of the photographic-scientific project “On the Trails of the Glaciers”. The aim of the expedition was to carry out glaciological measurements and obtain high-resolution photographic images, able to reveal glaciers evolution after more than 100 years from the missions of the first photographers and explorers.

A large group of people with a variety of different qualifications worked for the success of the expedition, which took place in summer 2011 in the Caucasian mountains of Svanetia region (Georgia). A special thank goes to the Italian Embassy in Georgia, who made it possible to explore the region with helicopters. Thanks also to the support of the Georgian Ministries of Internal Affairs, Defense and Environment and to the Georgian Embassy in Italy, it was possible to create a professional network that allowed to reach the scientific and explorative goals of the project.

“On the Trails of the Glaciers” is a project of the no profit association Macromicro, which gathers a team of scientists, photographers and alpinists. The project, by covering the most significant mountains of the Planet through 6 expeditions, studies the effects of climate change combining photographic comparison and on-field scientific research. Every expedition, indeed, will compare historical images with current ones, and will collect data on field, that will be subsequently analyzed in the laboratory. The pictures taken last summer in Caucasus by Ventura are validated by the geomorphological surveys carried out by the researchers, and by the analysis of the data, which have been presented for the first time at the 16th Alpine Glaciology Meeting, one of the most prestigious European glaciological meetings (Zurigo, February 2-3, 2012).

“The new images – explains Fabiano Ventura, photographer, alpinist and creator of the project – are realized from the same geographical spot and in the same period of the year of historical ones, and after an extensive post-production, they are digitally juxtaposed to the old ones through dedicated software. Thanks to this elaborated process, the researcher disposes of very high resolution comparisons to visually verify the changes which occurred during the time”.

 

 

Photo

Old picture: 1890 Vittorio Sella - © Fondazione Sella
Modern picture: 2011 Fabiano Ventura - © Archive F. Ventura
Panorama on Caucasus impressive mountains: mount Tetnuldi (4853 m) and mount Skhara (5200 m). By comparing the two pictures, after 121 years, the linear retraction of the fronthead of the two big glaciers, Adishi e Khalde, is clearly visible.

 

 

The most evident thing in this Georgian region is that tight woods grew up in place of immense glaciers, thus clearly remarking the difference between past and present. Accurate photographic and scientific studies reveal that important retractions in the glaciers length and surface mostly occurred in the last 50 years. These results were obtained from the scientific data analysis and from the photographic comparisons carried out more than six months of work after the expedition in the Svanetia region (Georgia) in summer 2011.

A documentary was produced by Sd Cinematografica after the expedition and directed by Marco Preti.
Watch the Caucasus trailer

 

 

Photo

Old picture: 1890 Vittorio Sella - © Fondazione Sella
Modern picture: 2011 Fabiano Ventura - © Archive F. Ventura
The Chaalati glacier in the Georgian Caucasus photographed after 121 years.

 

Scientific results

According to the report of Riccardo Scotti, glaciologist at the Department of Geological and Geotechnological Science at the University of Milan – Bicocca, who took part in the expedition as a researcher, “Since the Little Ice Age (LIA) has ended in this region, around 1810, the Tviberi Glacier, the biggest Caucasian glacier until 1965, showed the most impressive contraction (-16,4 km, -34,9% of its original surface) and linear retraction (-3,98 km, 42% of its main length). The Chaalati Glacier, the one that reaches the lowest altitude of the south Caucasian mountains (1861 m), showed a contraction of 4,4 km (-27,1%) and a retraction of the fronthead of 2,16 km. The Adishi Glacier, the smallest but the highest out of the three glaciers, showed the smallest contraction (-1,5 km, -13%) and a linear retraction of 1,15 km”.

One of the most interesting results of this study is the acceleration of the glacier surface’s reduction during the last time frame (1965-2011), compared to the previous intervals. In the last decades, indeed, the Tviberi Glacier lost a surface 3,2 times bigger than during the previous interval, and almost 50 times faster than during the XIX century. The same behavior is observed in the other studied glaciers.

 

 

Photo

Old Picture: 1884 Mor von Dechy © Royal Geographical Society
Modern Picture: 2011 Fabiano Ventura - © Archive F. Ventura
The Tvuiberi glacier in the Georgian Caucasus, photographed after 127 years. A forest is present today instead of the glacier fronthead, that retracted more than 4km.

 

 

The analysis of the high-resolution photographic comparisons taken by Fabiano Ventura during the expedition allowed us to verifying that the three studied glaciers are extremely representative of all the other glaciers of the surrounding area. Twenty pictures were taken from the same point of view and in the same period of the year of those taken more than 120 years ago by the first photographers and explorers (Vittorio Sella and Mor von Dechy).
The Caucasus mountain chain extends for about 1200 km between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea, and better than many other mountain it hosts concentrates many naturalistic peculiarities: the highest European peaks and glaciers important for their physic and geologic characteristics.

 

 

Photo

Old picture: 1884 Mor von Dechy © Royal Geographical Society
Modern: 2011 Fabiano Ventura - © Archive F. Ventura
Front view of the Adischi glacier. From the photographic comparison the collapse of the entire surface of the glacier’s fronthead is clearly visible.

 

 

The international scientific committee

The project “On the Trails of the Glacier” is managed by an ad hoc International Scientific Committee, that coordinates the team's on-field activities, and is composed by: Claudio Smiraglia, Full Professor at the Science Faculty of the State University of Milan, Kenneth Hewitt, Emeritus Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies and Associate Researcher of the Cold Regions Research Centre of the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, Christoph Mayer, member of the Science Academy of Munich and of the Deutsch Glaciological Committee, and Stefano Urbini, Researcher at the Institute of Geophysic and Vulcanology of Rome.

The team described its on-field activities and the results obtained during the expedition on the Macromicro association website through a rich and passionate logbook accompanied by images and videos

 

 

Photo

Photo: © Archive F. Ventura
Fabiano Ventura on the Banguriani mount’s peak (3885 m) in Caucasus, while retaking one of the panoramic picture of Vittorio Sella after 121 years.

 

 

The idea and the photography

Fabiano Ventura, creator of the photographic-scientific project “On the Trails of the Glaciers”, takes care of repeating the historical shots during the expeditions. Thanks to an extensive research of old photos, travel diaries of explorers and of maps in the archives, Ventura identifies the exact positions utilized by the first photographer-explorers more than a century ago.

“I realize the photos – explains Ventura – with a big format photographic machine in order to be able to overlap and compare them properly to the old ones. The pictures, indeed, must be comparable both in term of resolution and distortion introduced by the objective. Specifically, the “Caucasus 2011” mission retraced the photographic trails of: Vittorio Sella (1889, 1890 and 1896), Mor von Dechy (from 1884 to 1902), Mario Piacenza (1910), Vittorio Ronchetti (during the ’10 e ’20 of the last siècle) e Andrea Pollitzer (1929), and those of pioneers like Hermann Woolley, Albert Frederik Mummery, Douglas William Freshfield”.

The finding of the photographic spots used by Mor von Dechy in order to take the historical picture of the Tviberi glacier’s fronhead 127 years ago was very important, as well as the reaching of mount Banguriani’s peak (3885 m), from which Vittorio Sella, 121 years ago, shot the spectacular panoramic sequence, which spans more than 180°, uniting together seven pictures sized 12x20 cm. For the restoration and post-production of these two panoramic images (the old and new ones) the work of seven experts for a total of five weeks was necessary. As Ventura explains: “it is a complicated photographic reconstruction work, which was never done before: from the in situ research of the shooting spots, necessary to obtain the optimal overlap, to the restoration of the pictures and of the original negatives of Dechy and Sella”.

For additional info: www.fabianoventura.it  and  www.macromicro.it


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