By Alaina G. Levine
Like Ice? Recognize its importance to the health of the planet and the very existence of humankind? Then prepare to be horrified and generally freaked-out by a new documentary that shows in shocking detail how fast our glaciers are retreating, melting and disappearing. It’s history in the making, says James Balog, the National Geographic photographer, star and creative mind behind the film Chasing Ice, which chronicles his three-year exploits across the Arctic to document major changes in ice sheets due to human-caused climate change. I caught the film last night and it was indeed a horror show, as I watched transfixed as glaciers miles and miles long, that took thousands and thousands of years to develop, melted, cracked and calved into the sea in only a few years’ time, and in in some cases, mere hours.
Glaciers are the “canary” in the global climate change mine, says Balog, founder of the Extreme Ice Survey. The more they permanently melt, the more you and I need to be petrified for civilization. In fact, Balog posits that at the rate they are melting all across the northern regions, by the middle of our century, Montana’s “Glacier National Park will need a new name… Glacier-less National Park.”
Balog and his team installed cameras in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Montana and set them on timers to take pictures of the glaciers every hour as long as daylight was available. After a difficult first season, in which camera systems broke down, they installed new customized computer chips designed to keep the cameras humming under the most extreme and difficult meteorological conditions. The resulting footage, expertly assembled using time-lapse photography, shows unbelievable imagery, which can only be appreciated on the big screen.
Miles and miles and miles of mountains of ice gone, in only three years. Glaciers that have only retreated a few miles in the last 100 years, had retreated double and even more so in only the last three years. In one case, they had to pivot the camera upstream several times over the course of months, because the glacier was so rapidly retreating it was seeping out of the frame. Balog’s team also caught some even faster events with their cameras – in one case, in just over an hour, they witnessed and recorded a peninsula of ice, 5 football fields long, crack and thunder as it calved (broke from the glacier) and fell into the sea. “20 years ago I didn’t think that humans could change the basic physics and chemistry of the planet,” says Balog, who holds a master’s degree in geosciences. But in his assignments with National Geographic and through his experiences with the Extreme Ice Survey, his mind is as clear as the pictures he took. It’s absolute visual proof that the planet is changing – thanks to us.
He shows us black muck found throughout the Arctic that is formed from a mixture of sand blown in from the deserts of Asia and carbon from human-created sources, like coal-fire power plants. Algae like these pockets and mix in with the muck for food, causing them to grow bigger and even farther. All this dark matter heats faster than than white ice and snow around, them causing the ice sheets and glaciers upon which they sit to become structurally unsound. The resulting photographs of white ice sheets peppered with black holes leading to their demise is amazing.
If you have any doubt about climate change, if you have any thought in your head that global warming is not happening, or that climate change is not influenced – in a big way – by humans – go to see the movie Chasing Ice. You will be stunned and disturbed as you witness ancient glaciers die horrible deaths. Hopefully will be inspired to make a change, before climate change changes our world even more permanently.
Alaina G. Levine is a freelance science writer, professional speaker, corporate comedian, and President of Quantum Success Solutions, a leadership and career consulting enterprise. She can be contacted through her website at www.alainalevine.com.