Each year, numerous presenters come together to explore how photography and video are impacting conservation efforts around the globe at the International League of Conservation Photographers’ WILDspeak Symposium, November 15 & 16, 2016, in Washington, D.C. This year, Chris Linder joins the group of talented presenters to discuss his project on permafrost thaw.
Linder earned a master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. He then worked as an oceanographer, traveling from Belize to the high Arctic on research ships and icebreakers. It was this experience that helped show him the impact that photography can have on conservation and education. “The process of how the science was done in the field fascinated me,” Linder explains. “I photographed everything around me, capturing behind-the-scenes moments of research in action. As my skills as a photographer improved, scientists began to hire me to communicate their work to the public. I began with a three-year project studying the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska aboard U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers.”
“In addition to taking photographs,” he continues, “I wrote daily online essays and answered questions from school children who eagerly followed our website. I had discovered the power of photography as an educational tool and carved a new niche for myself—as both a visual storyteller and educator. The experience also kindled my love for the Polar Regions. Since that first expedition, I have documented 48 research projects from Antarctica to the Congo. I treat each one as an opportunity to share exciting scientific discoveries from places that most of the public will never see.”
Currently, Linder’s work involves documenting penguin science in Argentina and Antarctica, and he’s starting a new project that documents scientists studying Yellowstone Lake. And soon, a project eight years in the making will be brought to the public eye. In early 2008, on his first trip to Siberia, Linder began work on The Big Thaw. The mission of the project is to educate the public on how climate change is affecting permafrost thaw.
“Due to rising temperatures in the Arctic, soil that had been locked in the permafrost ‘freezer’ is now thawing, releasing Pleistocene-era carbon back into the modern ecosystem,” Linder explains. “There, hungry microbes devour it, releasing carbon dioxide and methane. These potent greenhouse gases, added to the high levels already present in the atmosphere, fuel a dangerous feedback cycle. The massive amount of carbon stored in permafrost soil—four times more than all the vegetation on Earth—has been described as a ‘carbon bomb.’ ”
The project will be released as a book and multimedia campaign next year by Braided River, an imprint of Mountaineers Press in Seattle, but attendees of this year’s WILDSpeak Symposium will get an inside look into this project and the challenges Linder faced working on it. “This was an incredibly difficult project to shoot,” he adds. “There were physical challenges like hordes of mosquitoes and quicksand, and also mental challenges like “how do I photograph invisible gases?” Ultimately, those challenges pushed me to think outside the box and experiment with new techniques and equipment in order to communicate the story.”
Don’t miss this important presentation at WiLDspeak—A Symposium on Photography, Conservation & Communications, November 15 & 16, 2016 at Carnegie Institution for Science, 1530 P Street, NW Washington D.C. 20005. To learn more, visit conservationphotographers.org/wildspeak2016.
To learn more about Chris Linder and his projects, go to www.chrislinder.com.