Depth of Field

Photographing Alaska's Changing Landscape

Carl Roland comes face to face with climate change every day.

Carl Roland

As a botanist at Denali National Park in Alaska, Roland has watched rising temperatures transform the landscapes he calls home. He's tracked changing tree lines and watched the tundra dwindle. He's grieved as wildlife habitats shrink when ecosystems respond to unexpected shifts.

In 2004, Roland stumbled upon a vast collection of landscape photos taken throughout the park’s history. He made it his mission to communicate the urgent need to address climate change by taking exact matches of more than 200 of the photos. The result is the Denali Repeat Photography Project, a lesson for us all about global warming's impact on our natural environment.

We spoke with Roland about his project for this video.

Click and drag the middle bar to switch between each photo

Hidden Creek Glacier

The photo on the right, taken in 2004, shows a major loss of glacial ice from the 1916 photo. Glacial melt contributes to sea level rise, a phenomenon that threatens coastal communities worldwide.

Icefall Near Bull River

The 1928 photo on the top shows an icefall, but it has largely melted away in 2011.When ice melts, it exposes new ground, altering the native ecosystem for plants and animal life in the area.

Boreal Mountains Near Savage River

From 1958 to 2001, there were major changes in the vegetation growing near the Boreal Mountains. While the more recent photo may look more verdant, it shows that shrub tundra is being overtaken by white spruce forest, signifying the ecosystem is changing from a sub-alpine environment to a boreal one. Such drastic and rapid changes in ecosystems can be harmful to biodiversity.

Heat of the Moment is a long-term project about climate change, led by WBEZ Chicago.