May 30, 2013

Melting Ice and Burning Questions for the Future

Posted by Kristan Uhlenbrock


Icebergs, Greenland

Remnants of the Greenland ice sheet flushed out to the ocean by Store Glacier’s spring calving cycle. Copyright: Balog 2007

As the climate changes, so do the impacts on society and the way we prepare for things such as severe weather, rising seas, droughts and wildfires, changing ecosystems, and melting glaciers. Looking at the world through the eye of a camera lens is one way that James Balog has been witnessing the impacts of climate change. One of his most recent works documents melting glaciers at various locations around the globe. The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) was founded by Balog in 2007 as a long-term photography project that merges art and science to give a “visual voice” to the planet’s changing ecosystems.

The current rates of sea ice loss in the Arctic are unparalleled in at least the last 1500 years. The accelerating rate of melting ice is caused by the warming of the atmosphere and ocean, and can be enhanced as the surface of the Arctic becomes less reflective and in turn absorbs more heat. As glaciers melt, the fresh water from them alters the chemistry of the ocean and causes sea-level to rise. It is estimated that if the Greenland ice sheet melted it would cause sea-level to rise about 20 feet (6 meters) around the globe. With over 8 million people in the U.S. living in an at-risk area for coastal flooding, the impact of melting glaciers will be catastrophic to infrastructure, ecosystems, and our nation’s security.


Moulin, Greenland, July 2008, James Balog, Founder and Director, Extreme Ice Survey

Balog will be joined with Richard Harris from National Public Radio during the Wednesday plenary of the conference, held 26 June at 8:30 A.M. During the plenary, they will have a conversation about the work and findings from the EIS, and what Balog has experienced with his first-hand accounts and travels to study these wonders of the world. Stunning photos and time-lapse images will be shown of melting glaciers and retreat seen around the world.

Documenting these glaciers provides the public with a visually dramatic account of how climate change is altering our planet. With melting glaciers threatening increased sea-level rise and affecting the chemistry of the ocean (by the addition of freshwater that pushes the heavier salt water down and causes changes in the currents), our society needs to prepare for the challenges this melting will bring. How modern society will prepare for impacts, such as the anticipated ice-free summer in the Arctic in a few decades and displaced populations due to sea-level rise, and what actions need to be taken, are important questions that need discussed. Balog’s work showing physical manifestation of climate change and making it accessible to the public is an important step to communicating the science and finding solutions.

– Kristan Uhlenbrock, AGU Public Affairs Coordinator