An iceberg drifts towards the Atlantic. Photo credit: James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey
Imagine an ice version of lower Manhattan. The pure white skyscrapers jutt upward against a bright blue sky. The sun glistens off the white metropolis, shining at the edge of the sea.
Suddenly, there is a deep groaning, the waking of a giant. A slow creaking sound rises as a deep crack slices across the southern end of the island. Within moments, the buildings topple like dominoes, shattering and crashing as the island splits. The southern end, now severed from the island, careens over sideways and plunges into the cold dark waters. The sea boils with ice, frothing and foaming. Waves lift 50-story tall white towers high up in the air, swallow them whole, and then burp them out with a tremendous splash.
Two hours later, all is quiet again, with little evidence that anything momentous occurred—except the city is noticeably smaller than it used to be.
What’s amazing isn’t that this actually happened. It’s that it continues to happen, at faster and faster, in bigger and bigger chunks, every year. It’s not a phenomena of concrete cities, of course, but of dozens of glaciers across the globe. Called a calving event, its the way icebergs are born. The leading edge of the glacier, formed of ice structures taller than most of New York’s buildings, slides into the sea along a slippery slope greased with fresh meltwater. With climate change fueling higher temperatures, more meltwater forms, meaning these glaciers are sliding headfirst into the ocean at rates faster than they are reforming up on land.
Watching the process of something so massive suddenly tumble off the edge of the world and drift away is a truly unbelievable experience. Comprehending the scale at which it can happen is nearly impossible. You have to see it to believe it. And thanks to Chasing Ice and the Extreme Ice Survey, you can.
Chasing Ice follows renowned nature photographer James Balog, on his ambitious project to provide evidence, through stunning time lapse photography, of the effect of climate change on the world’s glaciers. Called the Extreme Ice Survey, the project has over 30 cameras permanently positioned across the globe in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, the Rockies and on Mt. Everest. During daylight hours, these electronic eyes snap a picture every 30 minutes, providing an otherwise impossible perspective on the disturbingly fast rate of this glacial change.
Enduring insanely harsh weather conditions and logistical nightmares (you try rigging up highly sensitive electronic devices on the sides of mountains in hurricane winds and minus 40 degree temps), Balog’s determination and incredible foresight to see this project through are inspiring. And the pictures say a 1000 words.
The images captured provide undeniable proof that our planet is undergoing an unprecedented loss of ice—a phenomena that reaches far outside the natural thaw and freeze cycles of the past and can only be explained by man-made climate change.
The loss of glaciers has profound implications for sea level rise, global freshwater supply, ocean chemistry (and thus fisheries and weather patterns) and more. And as the EIS shows us, it is happening right now. But although EIS has received some attention (Balog was asked to present at the 2009 COP15), politicians continue to bicker over who is to foot the bill for reducing climate change (while their countries continue to pollute), and industry lobbyists and skeptics continue their mission to derail the many sensible, profitable, and beneficial solutions to shifting our society away from fossil fuel. And a highly confused and misinformed public remains immobilized.
But not for long.
The brilliance of Chasing Ice is that it provides a new way for getting this evidence out there. And it is hard evidence. Undeniable, beautiful, horrible evidence.
Whiteout Glacier, Alaska. Photo credit: James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey
To win the climate change battle in the US will require an engaged, active, and motivated public. It is the only thing that can overcome 6 lobbyists per Congress member whispering tall tales day in and day out. It is time to re-kindling those conversations with the skeptics in your world—at the dinner table, around the water cooler, at the bus stop. And here is a beautiful way to do it: buy them a ticket and take them on a movie date.
Unlike many activist films on climate change, this movie invites the skeptics. It doesn’t preach or throw tons of statistics at you (the few graphics are really well done and helpful). Instead, it is like walking through an art gallery—Balog’s photographs on the big screen are something to behold in and of themselves. At times, the awesome grandeur and beauty of these icy worlds is so breathtaking, you can almost forget you are gazing at Earth. And there are moments when the scale of destruction is so large and so fast, it is nearly impossible to believe. If you didn’t have the photos to remind you.
Find the helicopter below. That gives some scale as to the size of these walls of ice, the crystal towers tumbling into the sea.
A helicopter flies past a section of the face of a glacier in Greenland. Photo credit: James Balog, Extreme Ice Survey
So take that deep breath, and invite someone who is not yet engaged to come and have a look, to see what only a few people in the world ever get to witness: the awesome, raw power of nature and the unthinkable, unintentional power we have unleashed upon her. And take comfort knowing that with each conversation you have, each effort you make, we are one step closer to generating the tidal wave of support needed to turn this tide.
Balog’s camera’s will continue to click on in the distance, recording our results.