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The Rhone Glacier Then And Now

April 18, 2015

By Paul Homewood



From HH Lamb’s Climate, History and the Modern World , page 215

I have shown this comparison of the Rhone Glacier between 1750 and 1950 previously. It is from HH Lamb’s “Climate, History and the Modern World”.

It show just how much of the glacier was lost prior to 1950.


I have unearthed some more photos, to help fill in the gaps.



Back in 1856, Rhône Glacier almost reached Gletsch village down in the valley. View from the valley.



In 1870, Rhône Glacier had retreated about half a mile
and lost considerably in thickness, but still leaped down to the valley

The glacier appears to be about as large in 1856 as it was drawn in 1750. But even by 1870 it had experienced a rapid retreat.


We can contrast the 1950 photo with one taken in 2009






They actually look pretty similar.



The 19th photos come from a Swiss Tourism website, on a page titled “Global Warming Made Visible – Rhône Glacier Retreat”.

For some reason, they omit to show the 1950 photo!

They go onto explain why the glacier retreat is all your fault:

While a detailed prediction of ice-age cycles remains difficult, there is obviously a close correlation between carbon dioxide concentration and temperature. (For the detailed graph, see wikipedia)

But while the maximum natural carbon dioxide concentration used to be some 300 ppmv during the last three warm periods 200, 120000, 230000 and 320000 years ago, the carbon dioxide concentration has steeply risen to 375 ppmv since the beginning of the industrial age 200 years ago. This corresponds to an accelerated melting of glaciers in many regions of the world.


Has nobody told them that CO2 concentration increases AFTER temperatures rise?


  1. Ryddegutt permalink
    April 18, 2015 6:41 pm

    It could be usefull to know the source of the image from 1950. A link would be appreciated.

    • April 19, 2015 10:39 am

      It comes from the Lamb book Climate , History and the Modern World.

      I scanned it in but there is no direct link.

      • Ryddegutt permalink
        April 19, 2015 5:26 pm

        Thanks for the reply Paul. Maybe you could add a sentence under the image where you state the name of the book and the page number?

      • April 19, 2015 5:57 pm

        No prob

  2. April 18, 2015 8:48 pm

    Thanks, Paul. Good hunting!
    As you say, 1950 and 2009, “They actually look pretty similar”. How inconvenient is that?
    But, seriously, who might want the Gletsch village to threatened by the Rhone Glacier again?
    Now, I’m not saying that about half a degree Celsius of global warming did not happen in my lifetime, I’m just saying that at least part of it was not caused by the additional CO2 in our atmosphere, but caused by a dominating El Niño regime since 1977, and by the star we call the Sun, that has been having lower sunspot numbers since 1989 and 1991.

    • meto permalink
      April 19, 2015 7:05 pm

      Andreas, Thank you!

  3. April 18, 2015 11:01 pm

    Excellent visual refutation. The LIA was a real problem.

  4. Brian H permalink
    April 19, 2015 7:20 am

    “omit to show” is cr** English. “omit showing” is correct.

  5. April 19, 2015 7:37 am

    The amount of snow on the mountain depends a lot on minimum temperatures, which have been dropping

    on its turn that depends on the composition of certain substances TOA (top of the atmosphere)

    here is the time series for ozone in Arosa, Switzerland

    Ozone & other substances has been rising, since 1995. I would be interested seeing a picture of that mountain today, 2015 but I battle to find any.

  6. April 19, 2015 2:08 pm

    just after googling it, it seems somebody posted a picture of the mountain 17 hours ago
    I hope it shows here

  7. April 19, 2015 2:14 pm

    it seems to me the picture is the same as the 2009 picture? Try & spot the difference…

  8. Simonj permalink
    April 19, 2015 2:56 pm

    Hi Paul
    Nice article.

    Have you ever read a book called Climates of Hunger : Mankind and the world’s changing weather? Written by Reid A. Bryson & Thomas J. Murray and published by the University of Wisconsin in 1977. And having read Brian Fagans: The Little Ice Age. Following your review last year. And enjoyed that book. I would highly recommend this book. If you can track a copy down!

    Best wishes Simon

    • April 19, 2015 5:49 pm


    • Steve (Paris) permalink
      March 25, 2016 3:28 pm

      Thanks for the tip. Book ordered for April holiday reading (in beautiful sunny Tuscany). From comments on Amazon

      “A Climate Of Hunger Redux would be an interesting read also with the original data either confirmed or modified based on today’s knowledge. Science has always progressed acquiring better and deeper knowledge, though that doesn’t always happen to the scientists individually. Thomas Kuhn in The Nature of Scientific Revolutions remarks that sometimes the guardians of old ideas and positions must die off before the more correct scientific models can come to the fore.

      Bryson is not the first, nor will he be the last of an old guard. The anti-climate change crowd, wedded as they are to at least 30 year old data that allows them the convenience maintaining their now unsupported world view, will also have to pass before the obvious finally becomes accepted.”

      Data is good only when its not inconvienient!

  9. April 19, 2015 4:22 pm

    Never mind all that
    it seems to me that the first two pictures shown were not taken from the same view point?
    The mountain tops do not align

  10. ducdorleans permalink
    April 19, 2015 8:09 pm

    this link concerns the Glacier Blanc, in the Massif des Ecrins, in the Hautes Alpes … on page 19, there’s a nice graph of the length of the Glacier Blanc since 1815 …

    • April 19, 2015 8:45 pm

      The results only go until 2003. Global cooling only started around 2000….

      • ducdorleans permalink
        April 20, 2015 5:59 pm

        we can hardly expect, with a publication date of “D E C E M B R E D E U X M I L L E C I N Q”, the data to go much further than “2003” …

        point here is not what might (or is) happening now, but that the Glacier Blanc is retreating from at least 1815 onwards …

        and even 1815 was way before Nicolaus Otto and Gottlieb Daimler …

  11. mkelly permalink
    April 20, 2015 3:26 pm

    We now know the switchback road to the right of the glacier was made between 1856 and 1870.

  12. April 21, 2015 12:35 pm

    Katie Hayhoe used to show 2 pictures of the Rhone Glacier in her climate change slides..

    I did point out to her, that it actually grew a bit in the 1980’s, and lost 80% of it’s loss in the period framed by her photos, before 1950’s

    The Swiss glacier monitoring site is our friend here, measuring EU glaciers for over a hundred years..

    • April 21, 2015 12:49 pm

      I am surprised it is still to be retreating from 2010 onward

      • April 21, 2015 12:50 pm

        Sorry about typo, I am surprised it is still retreating from 2010 onward

      • Gary H permalink
        April 21, 2015 6:11 pm

        One might consider, however, that even if GW has paused – stopped, etc., – for 18 years – the climate is still a good degree + C warmer than it was 150 years ago. If there’s no more warming (that’s a death blow to AGW) and it remains roughly this warm for the next 100 years – should not one expect a general retreat (in starts and stops) of glaciers, etc., globally?

      • April 21, 2015 8:26 pm

        If you take some ice out of the freezer, it starts to melt. After an hour, it has melted some more.

        Has the temperature in the kitchen increased?

        Henry is confusing short term weather changes with climate

      • April 21, 2015 8:36 pm

        No. Some people are making the data to fit the theory. I am not one of them. Why would I fool myself? I would say square km of glacier is more important then length? You tell me?

      • April 21, 2015 9:16 pm

        I did not say it was not. I simply said you are confusing weather with climate.

        When you say people are making up glacier data to fit a theory, you sound rather ludicrous

      • April 22, 2015 6:21 am

        Paul says
        When you say people are making up glacier data to fit a theory, you sound rather ludicrous

        Henry says

        it seems the aletsch gletscher -which I have visited myself – has grown in ice if you look at it in square km. Why look at length [only] and hen there is climate change?

        Ludicrous? Those are the facts. Just google aletsch and see what you get. -The 117.6km2 is the up to date area compared to 86.6km2 in 1973.

    • April 23, 2015 9:58 am

      I forgot to point out, that the Rhone Glacier actually grew, during the rapidly warming 1910-1930’s !!

      so pointing at glacier photos is just a but silly, for the AGW concerned…

    • yonason permalink
      March 23, 2016 9:18 pm


  13. KTM permalink
    April 21, 2015 5:17 pm

    Inconvenient truth.

    So many people out there see pictures like this, photos of Eskimo villages, charts of sea level rise, etc, and take them as “irrefutable proof” of climate change. They don’t know enough to question whether it is natural climate change or man-made.

    Anyone that makes that transition gets immediately lumped in with the rest of the “deniers” because the proof is irrefutable.

    • April 21, 2015 5:53 pm

      the problem is that I did not handle / see the original data by myself. Somebody shows me a graph, but where is the data? That means that somebody could have fiddled with it, as it [the retreat] certainly does not follow the logic:

  14. April 21, 2015 6:37 pm

    @Gary H
    Your last comment holds true, even another comment that we are in a longer warmer cycle, other than the 87-88 year Gleissberg, which is about 210 years (DeVries) as is also confirmed by declining results of ozone:

    However, there is a definite upturn in ozone from 1995 upward which would realize in declining temps. and increasing ice at least from 2005 onward.
    So the results reported leave me puzzled, concluding that they are probably not correct [from the beginning and / or anywhere in between)

  15. April 21, 2015 8:15 pm

    for example
    for Aletsch he reports 23.95 km in 1973 and square area (in 1973) = 86,6 km2:

    but if you google Aletsch Glacier,
    you get
    Glacier in Switzerland
    The Aletsch Glacier or Great Aletsch Glacier is the largest glacier in the Alps. It has a length of about 23 km and covers more than 120 square kilometres in the eastern Bernese Alps in the Swiss canton of Valais. Wikipedia
    Area: 117.6 km²

    you tell me how this fits together?> it got shorter and it increased in km2? So it is melting?


  16. April 22, 2015 6:23 am

    sorry small typo again in my earlier comment

    Paul says
    When you say people are making up glacier data to fit a theory, you sound rather ludicrous
    Henry says
    it seems the aletsch gletscher -which I have visited myself – has grown in ice if you look at it in square km. Why look at length [only] and then claim there is climate change?
    Ludicrous? Those are the facts. Just google aletsch and see what you get. -The 117.6km2 is the up to date area compared to 86.6km2 in 1973.

  17. April 22, 2015 8:50 am

    Intriguing Barry, for lots of reasons!

    The long term trend is down, and the short term trend since 1990 is down and accelerating. It looks like the kitchen is getting warmer?

    The Aletsch looks like this:

    See what I mean?

    • April 22, 2015 5:42 pm

      It shows nothing of the sort.

      The graph has no links, no description, no labels.

  18. April 22, 2015 12:54 pm

    @Paul, Snowwhite, Barry, Gary

    Clearly, the change in length alone [of the glacier] is not a measure for climate change.

    You have to look at square km and depth of ice as well; that sounds reasonable?
    In the case of Aletsch, the square km of ice increased from 86.6 in 1973 to 117,6.

    the consideration here is that increase in precipitation and ice causes more melt water, so if a gletscher grows in size – such as Aletsch – you would have more melting water coming out at the bottom eroding some of the older ice that flows into the river.

    Explaining the shrinking of glaciers in Switzerland – 101

    I found the reason. Remember my name.

  19. April 24, 2015 12:53 pm

    I just checked temperatures in Zurich-Kloten, Switzerland: they have been declining at -.0.006K per annum since 2000;
    we can say -0.1K since 2000,
    which is essentially flat.

  20. RockySpears permalink
    May 14, 2015 12:24 pm

    Going to the earliest photo; some one decided to build a village “on the edge” of a Glacier! Now either this person “knew” it would not grow (and in Switzerland I think they have known about glaciers for a while) or “knew” that it was retreating and the village would be safe.
    Or is this all perspective and that building is miles in front? If not, do we know when the village was established, at least then we know where the glacier “wasn’t”.

  21. June 29, 2015 6:37 pm

    Reblogged this on Real Science.


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