Failing to provide historical context, The New York Times used Alaska’s Muir Glacier as “evidence” for global warming without mentioning that it has been melting since at least the 1700s.
On May 19, Kenneth Chang of The New York Times decried the acceleration of melting glaciers worldwide, which he blamed unequivocally on global warming. But at the top of his article (in the online version) there were pictures of the Alaskan Muir Glacier from 1941 and 2004.
These same pictures have been used by other media sources, such as Business Insider and The Huffington Post, to demonstrate that the Muir Glacier is melting for the same reasons. However, historical accounts indicate the glacier was melting as far back as the 1700s, indicate the Muir Glacier was melting much faster in the past than it is now.
Chang quoted a scientist who called melting glaciers the “best evidence” of global warming, but Chang’s first example, the Muir Glacier, has actually been melting at least this quickly for centuries.
The Times warned “some giant glaciers had passed the point of no return” and will “continue to melt until greenhouse gas emissions are reined in.“ Chang stressed the importance of melting glaciers on understanding the effects of global warming by interviewing Theodore A. Scambos, of the National Snow and Ice Data Center. Scambos called melting glaciers “possibly the best evidence of real global impact of warming.”
The purpose of the 1941 and 2004 photos of Muir Glacier was to illustrate a significant loss of ice and reinforce the story’s theme. According to the caption the Muir Glacier “is among the many worldwide that are disappearing.”
On May 15, Business Insider Australia’s Dina Spector also showed “Before and After” photos to reveal melting glaciers including several images of the Muir Glacier. This particular example goes back years, with the Huffington Post using Muir Glacier pictures in 2013 and Yahoo News in 2010.
But those accounts didn’t look back far enough to show that historical records reveal drastic melting as far back as 1794. According to a 1914 book from the National Geographic Society, the Muir Glacier was 25 to 40 miles further south in 1794 than the early 1900s. United States Geological Society (USGS) supported this account saying in 2012 that the Muir Glacier had melted more than 31 miles “For nearly two centuries prior to 1941.”
Also, in 2001, the USGS released a picture, showing the historical fluctuations of Glacier Bay glaciers, such as the Muir Glacier. This image showed a huge amount of glacial retreat that occurred between 1780 and the early 1900s, much more than in recent decades when carbon dioxide levels have been higher.
Global warming activists have often argued that the glaciers are retreating more quickly since 1941 than in earlier centuries. In fact, the Huffington Post’s James Gerken made this very claim in 2013, writing “Between 1941 and 2004, Alaska’s Muir Glacier retreated more than seven miles.” But that was roughly the same rate as the USGS found for past centuries, and there is some evidence that the Muir Glacier’s melting has actually slowed.
In 1952, an article in the Cairns Post quoted an “Arctic expert” named Dr. William Carlson. Carlson said the past century’s melting had been “exceedingly rapid” and Arctic glaciers had lost “half the size they were 50 years ago.” As Steve Goddard, a skeptical activist, pointed out in 2011 “had that rate of loss continued, there would have been no glaciers left in Alaska or Norway by 2002.”