The Brenva Glacier tumbles down the steep Italian side of the Monte Bianco/Mont Blanc massif. The glacier, which has receded and thinned intensely in the past couple of decades on this “sunny” southwest-facing wall, is increasingly unstable and subject to massive avalanches and rock slides. (James Whitlow Delano)

From left, Fondazione Montagna Sicura (FMS) glaciologists Paolo Perret, Simone Gottardelli and supervisor Fabrizio Troilo measure movement in the moraine of the receding and thinning lower reaches of the Brenva Glacier with a satnav (satellite navigation) device, accurate to a tenth of a millimeter, which they call the "bomba" (bomb). (James Whitlow Delano)

Photographer James Whitlow Delano has focused on environmental issues for much of his career. This interest was sparked early on in his life, he says: “I’ve always been strongly affected by the environment … since I was a young child living beside a nuclear research lab in California.”

Delano has worked around the world but now lives in Japan, where he works on, among other subjects, climate change. The work is so important to him that in 2015, he founded the Everyday Climate Change Instagram feed that presents the work of photographers documenting climate change around the world.

In some of his most recent work, Delano traveled to the Valle d’Aosta mountains and valleys of the Italian Alps to see the impact of climate change there. What he found was an area — a cultural crossroads since before the time of the Romans — that has been losing its glaciers at an alarming rate over the past three decades.

The beauty of Delano’s photos of Valle d’Aosta belie the gravity of the impact that climate change is having there. As Delano told In Sight:

Climate change in Val D’Aosta means a shorter snow season. From 1960 to 2017, the Alpine snow season [became] 38 days shorter on average, starting 12 days later and closing 26 days earlier. The 2015 to 2016 winter season was the warmest on record, with the French Alps [receiving] only 20 percent the normal snowfall. This year in Val D’Aosta, there was almost no snow at all in February.

More precipitation in a warmer future will arrive as rain. The Alps are the “water tower” of Europe. Glacial ice and winter snowpack store water, slowly releasing it, feeding rivers upon which European nations have depended upon in the warmer months, since time immemorial. Receding glaciers mean less water stored up to feed rivers, especially in times of summer drought. Also, rainwater drains away more quickly and is not stored in the Alps’ glaciers. Farmers and livestock pastoralists will find less grass in high meadows in summer to fatten up cows to produce milk for cheese.

What is happening in Valle d’Aosta is of global interest, to be sure, but the people living there are aware of the impact climate change is having, too. As Delano notes:

Valdostani are [keenly] aware that global warming means a shorter ski season and a greater dependence on costly man-made snow to keep that important regional industry going. Bars, restaurants, hotels, ski schools and rental shops are all negatively affected by a snow season that is 38 days on average shorter. Pastoralists are also feeling the effects of less green pasture in the drier, hotter summer months, but millions of people, dependent on the Po, Rhone, Rhine and Danuve rivers that are either born or fed by rivers sourced in the Alps, will be affected, hundreds of kilometers away, by an Alps with fewer glaciers. The warmer “sunny side” Italian Alps, a climate change hotspot, will likely turn out to be a proverbial /canary in the climate coal mine for [the] whole of Europe.

You can find more information about Delano and his work on his website, here. This project was funded by SpaceNoMore.


Glaciologist Fabrizio Troilo of Fondazione Montagna Sicura accesses, at the foundation's headquarters, data collected earlier in the day from the thinning Brenva Glacier. (James Whitlow Delano)

A poster features local Olympic cross-country skiers beside a water puddle in mid-March, when, in past years, there was usually one meter or more of snow. (James Whitlow Delano)

In mid-March, skiers make their way down from Passo dei Salati toward a snow-free Valsesia Valley and many sun-drenched slopes, already free from snow. (James Whitlow Delano)

Glaciologist Michele Freppaz comments on the lack of snow this year next to Istituto Mosso. There was almost no snow in February and high wind, making the snow hard packed and not very deep. (James Whitlow Delano)

A seemingly endless expanse of snowy peaks is seen from Capanna Gnifetti. The moraine of the Lys Glacier is visible in a curved line framing a deep indentation where the glacier ran in the early 20th century. (James Whitlow Delano)

Simone "Simun" Laurent, a dairy farmer in the valley outside Gressoney-Saint-Jean, leads his dairy cow outside his barn past his son. (James Whitlow Delano)

Local cheese from the Gressoney Valley. (James Whitlow Delano)

Lidia Laurent in the barn of her dairy farm, checking on her cows. (James Whitlow Delano)

A typical Walser-style chapel in the upper Gressoney Valley on a late winter night. (James Whitlow Delano)

A Walser dinner: Anna Linti, right, was born and raised in Gressoney-Saint-Jean; her husband, Aldo, prepares homemade sausage from Aosta, which is further down in the region's main valley. (James Whitlow Delano)

Locally made pine needle and cone grappa served as a digestivo at a dinner in Gressoney-Saint-Jean. This grappa, common in the mountains, is made from steaming needles and cones of the creeping pine. (James Whitlow Delano)

A young boy at a restaurant in Gressoney-Saint-Jean that specializes in Walser cuisine. (James Whitlow Delano)

The Gressoney Valley, snow-free, in mid-March. (James Whitlow Delano)

In Sight is The Washington Post’s photography blog for visual narrative. This platform showcases compelling and diverse imagery from staff and freelance photographers, news agencies and archives. If you are interested in submitting a story to In Sight, please complete this form.

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