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Chasing Ice: A haunting visual record of the climate catastrophe

Glacial. This word is often used to describe an incredibly slow process.

It is ironic then, I think, that glaciers and polar ice caps melting at such an incredible rate are providing the most visible and indisputable evidence that we are entering a new geologic epoch.

We are in a unique position (for worse) to bear witness to a change in the climate system within the span of a human life. We are seeing it happen in just about every natural system on the planet. Spring is coming earlier in the northern hemisphere and hardiness zones are shifting poleward. Sea levels are rising. Oceans are acidifying.

And the ice? It’s melting.

Don’t believe me? Then go see Chasing Ice, a new feature film about the Extreme Ice Survey, an ongoing multi-year project that has placed time-lapse cameras at the termini of many of the world’s notorious glaciers. The film (from the producer of The Cove) follows James Balog, the principle photographer and instigator of the project, as he becomes obsessed with documenting changing ice in some of the most extreme environments on earth. The movie debuted this last week in a number of cities nationwide. Check out the trailer:

Chasing Ice deserves to be seen on the big screen. Not only does seeing it in the theater lend these enormous environments a sense of scale, but seeing it with other theater goers made the experience that much more powerful. By the end of the film, the room felt deflated.

It is obvious that the film producers quickly realized they needed some identifiable objects in their shots in order to give the viewer a sense of scale. So we are treated to some nifty visualizations, like using a graphic of the Eiffel Tower to illustrate how much ice volume one of the glaciers has lost. Or by overlaying an image of lower Manhattan to show the size of a dramatic calving event. Or just having a person stand in front of some massive blocks of ice.

Those, coupled with some great visualizations, make this movie a model for successful climate communication. I just hope enough people get the chance to see it.

By all means, please try and see this film. It is fascinating, visually stunning, and utterly depressing.

If you’re hungry for more, James Balog has a great TED talk about his project which goes into more detail than the trailer, and shows some of the main time-lapse visualizations that are found in the film:

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S. Neil Larsen

Neil is a freelance environmental consultant based in Seattle.

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