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Michael Portillo’s Alaskan Glacier

January 10, 2019

By Paul Homewood

h/t Dave Ward


The BBC Thought Police must have missed this one!


The excellent Michael Portillo is back with with his latest railroad journeys, along with his trusty Appleton’s Guidebook.

[For non-UK readers, apologies as usual, as you may not be able to access BBC i-player.

But as a quick background, Portillo has for the last few years been travelling around the world by rail (courtesy of BBC licence payers). He carries with him the Appleton’s Guidebook, which originated for Britain in the mid 19thC, but later went international.

Appleton was effectively a tourist book for intrepid rail travellers in Victorian times. Along with detailed information about the railways themselves, Appleton also included plenty of information about stopovers on route, hotels to stay in, tourist attractions, famous buildings, useful tidbits etc.

Along his routes, Portillo stops off to visit some of the sites mentioned in the guidebook, and talk to local experts]

This latest series is based in Alaska, and, at 23 mins in, Portillo moves into glacier country. He informs us that his Appleton’s Guide for Alaska, which was published in 1899, states:

“Old residents insist that the climate is changing. That the summers are warmer and drier. The rapid retreat of all the glaciers during even 20 years is offered as another proof.”

He goes on to comment that he finds it stunning that the issue of warming is being addressed in the words of our Appleton’s author more than a century ago.

Unfortunately, Portillo does not seem to have connected the dots. That this warming and retreat of the glaciers began long ago in the 19thC, long before humans could have had any effect on climate.

The fact that Alaskan glaciers began receding in the 19thC is well known to scientists, not to mention readers of this blog.

For instance, the US Geological Survey (USGS) published this schematic of the famous Glacier Bay.


As we can see, glacier retreat began in the late 18thC, and most of the retreat took place in the 19th and early 20thC.

Michael Portillo is actually stood next to the Portage Lake on the film, near Anchorage, which he tells us was covered by ice in 1899. The history of the Portage Glacier tells a similar tale to Glacier Bay.

The Portage Pass served as a surface transportation route between Upper Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound–prehistorically, for competing interior and coastal native groups, and subsequently for Russian traders and trappers and early miners in the region:



In 1914, the glacier covered all of the Portage Lake, and had rapidly retreated even by 1951.

A study by GR Winkler, Portage Lake and Glacier, published by the Alaska Geological Society in 1984, stated:

For centuries the low pass at the head of Turnagain Arm served as a surface transportation route between Upper Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound–prehistorically, for competing interior and coastal native groups, and subsequently for Russian traders and trappers and early miners in the region. During an early geological reconnaissance of the area, Mendenhall (1900) gave the broad, 600-ft divide the name Portage Pass. During the past 200 years, Portage Glacier has advanced and retreated markedly. According to reports from the Vancouver expedition, in 1794 the glacier did not occupy the valley below the pass, but Portage Lake may have been larger than it is today. The glacier then advanced strongly at least 5 km until about 1890, at which time Portage Pass and the lake basin were completely occupied by ice. The low rubbly mounds which impound present Portage Lake are remnants of the terminal moraine left by this advance. In 1898, gold rush prospectors used the pass by climbing over Portage Glacier.

The approximately 4-km retreat of the glacier since at least 1914 has been documented by Barnes (1943) and Schmidt (1961) and apparently continues today, leaving 190-m deep Portage Lake in the glacial depression


Note that in 1890 the glacier covered not only the lake, but also Portage Pass. The pass can be seen on the map below, to the NW of Portage lake, where the Alaska Railroad runs:




The fact that the pass too was “completely occupied by ice” in 1890 gives some indication of how far the glacier retreated between 1890 and 1914.

Note also the comment that the glacier advanced by 5km after 1794. That is a similar distance to the current length of the lake, so by 1890 the glacier must have been well down the valley leading to Turnagain Arm, where the town of Portage now is.



The USGS Factsheet, written in 2006, has this history of the glacier:

During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Portage Glacier terminated on land at the western end of Portage Lake, filling Portage Lake with ice (Photo Plate 1914). Since the early 1900s, the glacier has receded, leaving Portage Lake in the scoured basin. The initial retreat of the glacier coincides with known climate warming associated with the end of the Little Ice Age (circa mid-19th century). As the glacier receded, its land-based terminus retreated into proglacial Portage Lake and changed from its relatively stable land-based environment to an unstable calving environment. The most rapid recession of some 140 to 160 meters per year occurred between 1939 (Photo Plate, 1939) and 1950, when water depth at the terminus was at its maximum—roughly 200 meters. Recession continued through the 1970s and 1980s (Photo Plate, 1972, 1984) until by late 1999, Portage Glacier had receded almost 5 kilometers, to a more stable position at the eastern end of Portage Lake (Photo Plate, 1999). The retreat was driven primarily by calving of unstable ice at the glacier terminus into Portage Lake. Ice loss resulting from increased melting of the glacier surface during the past century-long general warming trend contributed to glacier retreat, but to a lesser extent. Today, the terminus of Portage Glacier remains close to its 1999 location. 

Note that the most rapid recession took place prior to 1950. Glacier retreat since then has largely been due to calving of unstable ice, rather than climatic warming.


Many scientists have closely measured and studied glaciers throughout Alaska, and the conclusions have always been the same. Alaskan glaciers, which grew enormously during the Little Ice Age, began rapid retreat during the 19thC.

But it is fascinating that this was all common knowledge to a writer of a tourist guidebook published in 1899.

  1. January 10, 2019 7:49 pm

    Glaciers have been retreating since the end of the Little Ice Age. Warmists pretend to find this alarming and difficult to comprehend without looking for a scapegoat, namely humanity.

    • January 11, 2019 12:07 pm

      That cannot possibly be true. The great Michael Mann removed both the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warming from the annals of history.

      • Jon Scott permalink
        January 11, 2019 6:04 pm

        You mean he MANNipulated the ALGOREithms?

  2. January 10, 2019 8:47 pm

    I made some notes
    18:50pm : His historian : ‘Glaciers were retreating so first 2 railroads went bankrupt’ (paraphrased)

    18:51pm Portage Glacier valley ( Portillo starts reading)
    “old residents insist that the climate is changing,
    that the summers are warmer and drier.
    The rapid retreat of all the glaciers, during even 20 years is offered as another proof”
    (he closes the book)
    “I find it stunning that the issue of warming was being addressed in the words of our Appleton’s author Eliza Scidmore, more than a century ago.”
    “In 1899 this space was filled by the Portage Glacier …today the diminished glacier has retreated out of sight”

  3. dave permalink
    January 10, 2019 10:26 pm

    In his fuddled little mind he thinks that the retreat more than a century ago was all about anthropogenic warming! You can not change an elitist, idiot, fat-cat politician. He is the one who once said “I do not believe X was bribed; who could be bribed for a trivial sum like fifteen thousand pounds?”

    I find him moderately amiable, but just deeply shallow (if that is a possible description?)

    • January 11, 2019 6:01 am

      Dave, Portillo is an avowed sceptic of man-made global warming, he was leaving the viewers to join the dots, that’s probably how it got past the BBC. Of course he could have tried a more obvious take first and been vetoed. I suspect it was his own decision though, he’s a bright chap.

      • dave permalink
        January 11, 2019 1:39 pm

        “…sceptic…he was leaving the viewers to join the dots…”

        Paul does not exactly agree with you, as he says that it is PORTILLO who fails to join the dots (see above), and nor does the Portillo of 2005:

        “We need to re-inject carbon into the earth rather than releasing it to the atmosphere [and push for electric cars].”

        That is from an article in The Times.

        It is perfectly possible that he has changed his mind somewhat, but such people rarely do the hard work of rebuilding their minds.

        In that context I always liked the one right-wing joke that survived the Hollywood machine, and got into the film “The Candidate” with Robert Redford as the relentlessly photogenic and achingly liberal “newest thing since the last one.” He says to his chief campaign strategist,
        “I have learned something,” and gets the startled reply “What? A little Economics?”

        Meanwhile, the El Nino seems to be dying:

  4. tom0mason permalink
    January 11, 2019 7:41 am

    I feel that Michael Portillo, being the clever political person, understood that hitting the skeptical argument too hard would cause problems with the BBC apparatchiks, and so resorted to just stating what was written and leave it to the viewer to draw the conclusion.

    Well done Mr Portillo, hopefully the viewers got the message.

    (funny how the spell-chewer wishes to change Portillo to either Portfolios or Tortilla 🙂 )

  5. January 11, 2019 8:28 am

    The point is historical accounts are full of things which contradict the modern narrative, ‘that now we have pumped so much CO2 into the air, warming the atmosphere leading to physical changes like glaciers melting and today’s glacial melt cannot be part of ever variable world”
    So true believers like Harra on the BBC will selectively report signs which support the narratives like new glacier melt , but not things that contradict the narrative.

  6. Gerry, England permalink
    January 11, 2019 2:08 pm

    How did that get past Harrabin?

    • January 11, 2019 2:12 pm

      He was too busy writing about dog food!!

    • Jon Scott permalink
      January 11, 2019 6:12 pm

      Because like for all liars, it is hard work for him to MANNipulate everything. You need the infrastructure of Stalin’s Russia to keep a lid on and rewrite every truth

      • January 11, 2019 7:10 pm

        Well with £4bn/pa BiasedBBC has a good go at copying Stalin

    • matthew dalby permalink
      January 13, 2019 5:47 pm

      The BBC thought police must be on holiday at the minute. There is a perfectly sensible article about the heavy snow in Germany and Austria,
      While this is clearly an extreme weather event, the BBC are happy to quote Alexander Radlherr “Such quantities of snow above 800m only happen once every 30 to 100 years”. A quote from a meteorologist (rather than a climate scientist) about something that is clearly a weather event and not climate, stating that it is one of those things that happens from time to time. No hysterics claiming that it is 30% worse or 5 times more likely to happen (or whatever the usual rubbish is) due to climate change. If only the BBC could show the same common sense when reporting other forms of extreme but not unprecedented weather. However I reckon it will be less than 2 weeks before some “scientist” tries to show that heavy snow is consistent with global warming. Not sure if it will be Peter Stott or Micheal Mann

  7. A C Osborn permalink
    January 11, 2019 2:13 pm

    For Climate Catastrophists history started around 1950.

  8. johnbuk permalink
    January 11, 2019 8:03 pm

    So this Appleton chap was the first denier? All his books must be burned immediately (sustainably of course). Hope there isn’t a statue of him anywhere, that will have to come down.

  9. January 12, 2019 10:31 am

    Portillo has just done a segment where he visits a recreated bordello bar, where actresses play the parts of hostesses with dollar bills stuffed in their cleavage.
    … that’s pretty unPC for BBC

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