Photographer James Balog went from being a climate-change sceptic to documenting our planet’s rapidly melting glaciers. In the 2012 film”Chasing Ice” he gathers irrefutable evidence that climate change is real. Until recently, Balog thought climate change was only based on computer models and hyperbole. “I didn’t think that humans were capable of changing the basic physics and chemistry of this entire, huge planet,” he said in the film. “It didn’t seem probable, it didn’t seem possible.”
The turning point came when Balog was sent to the Arctic on an assignment for National Geographic to capture the Earth’s changing landscape. This spawned a bigger project — the Expedition Ice Survey — where Balog and his team used time-lapse cameras pointed at glaciers in Europe and North America to document the effects of climate change.
The pictures are gorgeous, but the outlook is bleak: Glaciers are consistently receding every year, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to rise. The film convinced Balog — and many viewers — that humans are largely to blame for rising temperatures.
Nature photographer James Balog used to be a climate-change sceptic. He is now convinced that global warming is a true crisis.
Glaciers naturally melt and retreat in the summer, and advance again in the winter. But most of the world's glaciers are steadily shrinking.
He decided to mark places on the ground where he had taken pictures of glaciers in Iceland, and return in six months to photograph the same places.
Six months later, the glaciers Balog had photographed had changed so much he and his crew thought they had marked the wrong locations.
The top three photos show another angle of the Solheim glacier when Balog first photographed it. Six months later — as seen in the bottom three photos — much of the ice has melted.
These cameras would take a photograph of the same section of land every hour during daylight. The team traveled out to each location every few months to grab the film and make any repairs.
realising he could not just buy the equipment he needed off-the-shelf, Balog and his crew custom-built their own time-lapse camera devices (including timers, solar panels, and housing) and a custom computer to handle all of the data.
They had to build the equipment to withstand hurricane-force winds, extreme cold, and other harsh conditions.
The glacier melted so much, the team actually had to readjust the cameras to keep pace with the melting ice.
In another instance, a chunk of ice about the size of lower Manhattan (but two three times as tall) broke off Greenland's Ilulisat glacier and floated away. This all occurred in a little more than an hour.
In the Yukon Territory alone, only four glaciers out of 1400 have grown in size since the 1950s. About 300 have disappeared completely, and the rest have shrunk.
There are many things that work against glaciers. The black stuff in Balog's hands is cryoconite, a mixture of dust from Central Asian deserts, algae, and carbon from coal-fired factories that makes ice melt faster.
Because the carbon is black, the cryoconite absorbs a great deal of heat and melts holes in the ice.
The glaciers are pock-marked with these cryoconite deposits. Fast-melting ice creates the flows of water that break apart the glaciers.
Some of the most potent pieces of evidence that convinced Balog of climate change were the ice core samples taken from glaciers.
Bubbles of ancient air lodged in ice core samples can tell scientists a great deal about carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere throughout the ages.
Scientists know that atmospheric temperatures closely correspond with carbon dioxide levels. For more of the last 800,000 years, carbon dioxide levels have bounced between 180 and 280 parts per million.
When they made the movie, carbon dioxide levels were at 390ppm and on their way up to 500ppm. We just recently hit the global 400 ppm mark.
The rising temperatures (and rising sea levels) are already having all kinds of effects on human civilisation.
About 20% of the forests in New Mexico and Arizona have burned in wildfires, according to Dr. Thomas Swetnam of the University of Arizona.
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