Capturing a Century of Natural Resource Change Through Repeat Photography

Black and white image of train tracks and mountains Black and white image of train tracks and mountains

Left image
Inspiration Point from the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad in 1899 taken by HC Barley
Credit: NPS, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, Sidney West Collection

Right image
Inspiration Point from the White Pass & Yukon Route railroad in 2014
Credit: NPS photo/R. Karpilo & S. Venator

What has changed at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park since the days of the Klondike Gold Rush more than 100 years ago? Within the area of the park's present-day boundaries thousands of stampeders have come and gone. Cities have emerged and disappeared. One boomtown has transitioned into an historic site. But what about the backdrop for these human dramas? How have the landscapes changed since the last great gold rush? During an inventory and monitoring project conducted in 2013 and 2014, researchers followed in the footsteps of the stampeders using a technique known as repeat photography to help answer that question.


What is Repeat Photography?
Repeat photography is a cost-effective tool used by scientists and researchers monitoring landscape changes. It has also become a valuable tool in communicating the effects of climate change such as glacial recession. The concept of repeat photography is similar to that of marking a child's growth on a door frame. One returns to the same location at a later date to record the change that has occurred during the intervening period of time. Modern photos of a subject are taken from the same vantage point at different points in time.

The historic photographs selected for this project were taken between 1894 and 1925, with the bulk taken by professional photographers from 1897 to 1899. They were obtained from many locations, including the park's archives and historic photo library, Library and Archives Canada, University of Washington, U.S. Geological Survey, Yukon Archives, photo collections from other institutions.

Interested in learning more about repeat photography and changing landscapes in other Alaska National Parks? Visit Denali NPP and their Exploring Land Cover Change Through Repeat Photography project.

A Changing Park
Photo pairs capture natural resource changes throughout the park. Several photo pairs were produced for the Skagway, White Pass, and Chilkoot Trail Units and document vegetation, glacial, and anthropogenic changes in each unit. While the park seeks to preserve the historic days of the Klondike Gold Rush, the surrounding landscapes continue to change. Natural processes such as vegetative succession continue, human development leaves its mark, and a changing climate also contributes to changes in the park. Compare some of the photo pairs and discover for yourself the similarities and differences. Some things to look for could include retreating glaciers, vegetative succession, vertical advance of tree lines, and significant increase of plant growth along rivers.

Check out the USGS Repeat Photography Project to see how the technique is used in climate change research at Glacier National Park, Montana.

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    Last updated: October 3, 2019

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