Whether we consciously engage them or not, we all, to a degree, possess certain notions about “normalcy.” For example, 98.6 F is generally considered to be “normal” human body temperature. Sleeping in on Saturday mornings is considered “normal.” And these beliefs about what constitutes “normal” extend to things like weather, and tend to be informed by experiences from previous years. With the onset of climate change, however, these notions of “normal” weather are now regularly challenged, as temperatures lunge from one extreme to the other and “epic” winter storms work their way towards us weekly.
In monitoring the toll that climate change is exacting globally, there are also certain established notions of normalcy, otherwise known as “baselines,” people turn to when assessing damage or the extent of change.
One project aims to establish such a baseline through the constant photographing of glaciers around the world, while serving the dual purpose of creating a memory of a rapidly and permanently changing landscape. The Extreme Ice Survey, founded in 2007 by nature photojournalist and extreme adventurer James Balog, has scaled harsh terrain in order to mount 28 cameras far above 13 glaciers around the world in places of high scientific value, such as Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalaya, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains (U.S.), South America and Antarctica.
The Extreme Ice Survey was the subject of the Academy Award nominated documentary feature film “Chasing Ice” (2012), which chronicled the EIS team’s expedition to document rapid glacial melt in the Arctic Circle, and, in fact, captured the largest glacial ice break-up (calving) ever recorded on film; roughly 7.4 cubic km of ice breaking away and tumbling off of the Ilulissat glacier in Greenland. The highly anticipated sequel “Chasing Ice II,” which follows Mr. Balog’s journey to Antarctica is expected in the next few years.
So, what is the take-away message of such an extreme project? In a recent interview with ABC News, Mr. Balog likens glacial melt and calving to “seeing, touching, hearing, and feeling climate change in action. It’s happening right now, all around us,” he declares.