May 30, 2013
Melting Ice and Burning Questions for the Future
Posted by kuhlenbrock
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.
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
Greenland has had glacier ice during the coming and going of the last three giant ice ages. I note this pitch from Balog says nothing about past climate changes, for example the several degrees of cooling in a century about 13,000 years ago and the several degrees of warming in a century about 11,900 years ago. The 1100-year cold snap is several times the life of almost every species on Earth, but no dying off occurred on the way down, or during the cold snap, or on the way up again. Nor does this pitch for alarmism mention that Earth was several degrees warmer several million years ago without any obvious damage to the biota of the time, so two degrees won’t this time. No mention of the latest ice age when glacier ice covered Canada–at least a mile thick on Montreal 20,000 years ago–and reached Staten Issland in New York harbour. Why is historical perspective lacking in the wild pitches into the fog of the future? I received my Ph.D. in Geology at Yale in 1960.