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Yes, then-and-now photos of Arctic are real, but it’s not a 100-year comparison

The historical photo was taken in 1928 from Svalbard, between Norway and the North Pole. The newer photo was taken in 2002.

Over the past 20 years, the Arctic has warmed at nearly twice the rate as the entire globe, according to the National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC). This is known as Arctic amplification.

“Arctic amplification is not the only evidence of rapid climate change in the Arctic. The floating sea ice cover of the Arctic Ocean is shrinking, especially during summer. Snow cover over land in the Arctic has decreased, notably in spring, and glaciers in Alaska, Greenland, and northern Canada are retreating. In addition, frozen ground in the Arctic, known as permafrost, is warming and in many areas thawing,” the NSIDC reported.

A photo meme purporting to show what the Arctic Circle looked like 100 years ago compared to now has circulated online for years. A screenshot of the meme is below.

Credit: Screenshot

VERIFY audience member RI.B asked if the photos seen in the meme are real.

THE QUESTION

Are the photos seen in the meme that show the 100-year comparison of the Arctic real?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is true.

Yes, the photos are real but they don’t show a 100-year comparison. The original photo was taken in 1928 from Svalbard, between Norway and the North Pole. The more recent photo was taken in 2002 by a Swedish photographer. 

WHAT WE FOUND

Using RevEye, a reverse image search tool, VERIFY traced the photos to a 2017 article from National Geographic. 

The article was a profile on how Christian Åslund, a photographer with Greenpeace, was able to use archived photos from the Arctic Circle to show climate change’s effect on the area. 

But the photos do not show a 100-year comparison. The photos were taken 74 years apart. Åslund posted to Instagram that the historical photo was taken during the summer season in 1928.

In an email to VERIFY,  Åslund said the “photo series from Svalbard is actually from 2002 but has its own wings on the internet nowadays.”

He said the black-and-white images were courtesy of the Norwegian Polar Institute, from its photo archive in Tromsø, Norway. 

“I took the color images during the summer season of 2002 and it was a collaboration between Greenpeace and them to show the impact of climate change, or global warming as it was called then,” he said. “The old black-and-white archive images are from the summer as well. You can see it on the fjords and see that they aren’t frozen, which they would be normally during the winter. Also on the mountain peaks that would have more snow in the winter, but regarding the glaciers themselves since it’s glacier ice it doesn’t melt much more due to seasons but from a warmer climate.”

The Norwegian Polar Institute’s online archive features more than 52,000 photos from Svalbard. More than 1,100 of them are from 1928 and several feature a man with a similar cap and rowboat (see examples here and here).

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