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“On the Trail of the Glaciers”: final mission on Gran Sasso

“On the Trail of the Glaciers”: final mission on Gran Sasso

After 11 years, the first phase of the photographic and scientific project, “On the Trail of the Glaciers,” came to an end on 13 September. The project, which was the brainchild of Fabiano Ventura and was sponsored by Enel Green Power, has studied and documented the state of the Earth’s largest glaciers.

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The aim of the “On the Trail of the Glaciers” project embarked upon in 2009 by photographer Fabiano Ventura and supported by Enel Green Power was to study and document glacial erosion as a way of understanding how our planet is being transformed by climate and environmental change. After 11 years of iconographic research and photographic and scientific work ranging from Karakorum in the Caucasus, to Alaska, the Andes and the Himalayas, the photographer and his team completed their mission on the Gran Sasso massif in Italy’s Abruzzi Apennines on 13 September. This was the final stage of their latest expedition, “2020 Alps,” which began on 24 July and took in all the most important glaciers along the entire Alpine arc from Valle d’Aosta to Friuli Venezia Giulia.

For three days, Ventura’s scientific and photographic team documented the death throes of Europe’s southernmost glacier, the Calderone, by replicating photographs taken between the end of the 19th and the start of the 20th century by Dino Toninelli, Enrico Abbate and Pietro Angeletti.

The glacier, which lies at an altitude of between 2,650 and 2,850 meters, began retreating in the mid-19th century and shrank from a size of 7.5 hectares in 1916 to 4.5 hectares by the end of the 20th. Over the last 20 years, it has continued to shrink, albeit to different extents, depending on the year, and very probably it is now as small as it has ever been at any time in its long history. Indeed, since the turn of the millennium, the Calderone could no longer be described as a glacier proper but rather a glacieret: an accumulation of ice with a small surface area and limited thickness in which melting is so rapid in summer that the ice that formed over winter shrinks away.  

“Despite these last tiring few months, I am very happy to be leaving for what I would refer to as my home mountain,” declared Fabiano Ventura on the eve of the expedition to the Calderone glacier. “I actually began mountaineering on the Gran Sasso and it is where my passion for mountains and environmental photography took shape. The ‘On the Trail of the Glaciers” project has taken me all over the world and couldn’t have finished anywhere else.”

During their missions, Ventura’s photographic and scientific team used large format film cameras to take replicas of photographs taken in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The result is the world’s most extensive archive of photographic comparisons of the planet’s largest glaciers and it has been put together with the aim of bearing witness to the Earth’s state of health.

Enel Green Power supported Ventura’s project in order to communicate the effects of climate change by comparing the present state of the glaciers with historic photographs taken in the early 20th century. The comparison of the photographs, together with scientific data gathered, is the ideal way of bearing witness to the retreat of the World’s largest mountain glaciers because it provides an instantaneous idea of significant changes to the climate that our planet is faced with. It also reiterates the urgency of the actions outlined in the UN’s Agenda 2030 SDGs, which our Group has put at the very heart of its own actions.  

The"2020 Alps” expedition marked the end of the first long phase of the project dedicated mainly to photographic comparisons and scientific research. The second phase, which involves communicating the results in schools, museums and the scientific community, can now begin. There is just one aim: to raise awareness as much as possible of changes already underway and the need to take responsibility for the future of our planet, both individually and collectively. 

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