Ice And Time

Every iceberg is a floating record of time, a frozen snapshot of events that occurred over many millennia. If you’re interested in experiencing icebergs, one of the best places to go is Antarctica. Ninety percent of all ice on Earth is contained on that continent, and as our planet warms, glaciers dislodge an ever-larger portion of it each year into the Southern Ocean, where most icebergs melt away in a single season.

One day when I was traveling on a Russian icebreaker off Antarctica, our party came upon an extraordinary iceberg. It looked like a turquoise cathedral conceived by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, with soaring archways and fluted columns sculpted by the corroding force of waves.

Just as amazing as the shapes were the colors—blues deeper than I’d seen on any other iceberg before. Blue ice forms when snowfall is compressed and becomes part of a glacier that steadily moves from the continent’s interior down to the sea. Over time air bubbles trapped inside the ice are squeezed out until it gets so dense that it doesn’t reflect light well anymore. Just like deep ocean water, old ice absorbs the red end of the color spectrum, leaving only blue hues. Clearly, this berg was made of ancient ice, and to me, it seemed as singular as an old bristlecone pine that has survived the ages.

Actually I was thinking less about the nature of ice and time than I was about staying upright in the heavy seas that rocked the ship as it circled the iceberg. I tried to let my body compensate for the ship’s motion, but I ended up mounting my camera on a shoulder stock for better balance with the heavy 300mm ƒ/2.8 lens that I used for this image. When a group of chinstrap penguins came into view, they added reality to a scene so surreal that it could have seemed a fantasy—their moment aboard the blue berg as fleeting as the life of the ice itself.

Get creative during one of Frans Lanting’s spring workshops at his studio in coastal California. See a video clip at

Frans Lanting has been hailed as one of the great nature photographers of our time. For more than two decades he has documented wildlife and our relationship with nature in environments from the Amazon to Antarctica. He portrays wild creatures as ambassadors for the preservation of complete ecosystems, and his many publications have increased worldwide awareness of endangered ecological treasures in the far corners of the Earth.