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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Caught In The Act

An unprecedented experiment in time-lapse photography reveals how quickly glaciers are melting around the world

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caught in the act
Above: High tide brings an endless procession of ice fragments onto the beach in Jökulsárlón, Iceland. In some 436 frames shot between May and September of 2007, the Columbia Glacier near Valdez, Alaska, is shown to have receded by about half a mile, equaling a volume loss of some 0.4 cubic miles of ice or 400 billion gallons of water. Between June and October of
2007, Greenland’s Ilulissat Icefjord Glacier, considered one of the Arctic’s most alarming examples of global warming, is captured showing ice flowing out at a rate of 125 feet per day or 8.5 miles per year.
Originally, the project timeline called for the cameras to operate until the summer of 2009. But Balog says he’s trying to raise enough money to keep the cameras going for a couple of years longer. The project, which has a budget of well over $1 million, is funded by prominent research and scientific organizations along with corporate partners.

If the first half of EIS is about going out and collecting evidence, the second is about using those findings to educate the public. Along with the video, a portfolio of large-format photographs is in the works, as well as a documentary about the team and the process behind making the images. Balog joined a panel of climate-change experts last year to brief members of the U.S. Congress on the implications of the melting glaciers, and there are plans for him to do that again this year.

In the spring, he’ll release a book called Extreme Ice Now—Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate: A Progress Report. In addition to the time-lapse images, he continues to photograph the ice as he has for some 30 years, though his intent has changed.

Aside from The New Yorker and National Geographic, Balog’s work has been published in Audubon, Life, The New York Times Magazine, Outside and Vanity Fair. He has authored six wildlife and nature photography books, including Tree: A New Vision of the American Forest and Survivors: A New Vision of Endangered Wildlife, which was broadly acknowledged as a major conceptual breakthrough in nature photography.

caught in the act
On its way to the North Atlantic Ocean, an iceberg the size of a compact car washes up on a black sandy beach under a star-filled sky.
Among many other accomplishments, Balog won the Rowell Award for the Art of Adventure in 2007 and was named the North American Nature Photography Association’s “Outstanding Photographer of the Year” in 2008. More than 100 museums and galleries across the globe have exhibited his work. He also was the first photographer ever commissioned to create a full plate of stamps for the U.S. Postal Service. They were released in 1996 and featured America’s endangered wildlife. But for all of those accolades, he believes the work he’s doing now is his most important.

“Even when I was just starting out, I knew that my best work wouldn’t come from a publication,” says Balog. “It had to come from within and would be generated from some observation I was making about the world. Photography is such a powerful tool for transforming the way we see the world, and we haven’t used it to its maximum potential.”

To see more of James Balog’s photography, visit www.jamesbalog.com. Learn more about the Extreme Ice Survey at www.extremeicesurvey.org.


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