Our Members: Alpine of the Americas Project Founder Jonathan Byers
AAC member Jonathan Byers and his friend Edgardo LeBlond realized firsthand the changes taking place in the mountains while on a 23-day trip that followed the highest parts of the Sierra Nevada. As a climber, photographer, scientist, and educator based in Yosemite, California, he decided to do something about it. The two teamed up and started Alpine of the Americas (AAP). AAP gives individuals the tools to capture simple and useful repeat photographs for climate science databases. Jonathan sat down with us to talk about AAP and why he thinks AAC members are the perfect candidates to help.
AAC: Hey Jonathan, can you tell us a little bit about how Alpine of the Americas Project got started?
JB: My friend Edgardo LeBlond and I started the Alpine of the Americas Project in 2011 while working as educators in Yosemite National Park. After having heard and taught about climate change for so long, we realized we wanted to go see firsthand the changes taking place in the mountains. While on a 23-day trip that followed the highest parts of the Sierra Nevada, we retook 42 historic photographs from the same angle, allowing us to see for ourselves the dramatic retreats of the glaciers and snowfields, as well as the changes to the treeline and alpine meadows. Actually seeing and understanding these changes was a really empowering experience and we decided that we had to share these experiences with other people.
AAC: You were a 2013 Live Your Dream grant recipient. Tell us about your experience with the AAC and why fellow members are the perfect people to bring back this data?
JB: I became an AAC member after thinking for a long time that I should join—and I’m glad I did! I received a Live Your Dream grant to get self-rescue training to have the skills to feel confident climbing safely in Patagonia. That season I was able to climb Cara Oeste of Cerro Torre, the most incredible climb I’ve done to date, with my friend Jonathan Schaeffer.
As AAC members, we are constantly going out to remote areas that few people—even the scientists who want to study them—can access. Even without formal scientific training, we can collect data that is extremely valuable for research on alpine areas and the changes that are happening to the resources we depend on.
AAC: Do you have to be a professional photographer to take photos?
JB: Absolutely not. The purpose of this project is that everyone can go out and see for themselves what is happening in our mountains. In the past year, an explorer named Joey Shonka has been repeating many photos as he walks the length of the Andes. We are partnered with Outward Bound California and NatureBridge in Yosemite to repeat photos with their students to help teach about climate change and the real impacts it is having in the mountains. People can also join us for one of our weekend trips in the Sierra Nevada later this summer for a “re/photography workshop” (more info on our website alpineamericas.com)
AAC: What do you think climbers can learn from going out there and taking photos?
JB: People who spend time in the mountains see the changes happening in the mountains. We all have seen the changes, whether it’s the glaciers and crevasses since the last time you were up on Mt. Rainier, or the moraine getting onto the Torre Glacier in Patagonia. Participating with AAP and repeating photos gives people a tool to share these massive changes that are happening in the mountains with their communities, friends, and family in a very visual and understandable way.
AAC: What do you do with the photographs?
JB: These photos are used by a network of scientists, environmental education organizations, and activist groups. The idea of “climate change” for many people is such an abstract concept, but when you see that there was a huge glacier 100 years ago, and today there is a rock cliff and a lake, it brings it to a more understandable scale. When we connect that with the realization that many millions of people rely on these areas for drinking water, irrigation, and hydropower it brings the issue to a more local and personal level. These photos are powerful tools in building understanding and promoting action to address climate change
AAC: How can folks get involved?
JB: Three ways:
Repeat a photograph! If you’re planning a trip in the Sierra Nevada, the Cascades, or the Rockies there are many historic photos waiting to be repeated. Especially because this is such a low snow year it is important to record and share these changes.
Tell someone who might be interested in this project about it – the more help we have the more photos we can repeat and people we can reach.
Support us with a donation – we are working to build a collaborative database of these historic photographs in North and South America that will be publicly searchable online resource for future education, research, and climate activism.
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