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Last night Andrew and I saw a new film called Chasing Ice. The film is as much about disappearing glaciers as it is about the efforts and risks of James Balog and his crew to document their disappearance.



Balog had a vision of planting cameras on the sides of mountains all throughout Iceland, Alaska, and other northern no-man’s-lands. After working out complicated technical problems – how to keep the cameras from being destroyed, how to keep them charged – he and his crew hiked into icy hinterlands, hung precariously off the sides off ice cliffs, belayed down skyscraper sized ice cubes, and planted a few dozen cameras. Then checked on those cameras every few months for years.

The technicalities on their own were interesting. The details of bolting cameras to rock in volatile, unpredictable, ever-changing climates, and all that. Not to mention Balog’s bad knees, which he abuses till he needs a third surgery. Those aspects alone could have made for a great story. But the images captured over a period of years, and the story those pictures tell, are important. And scary. And beautiful.


Icebergs aren’t the lone floating clump, like what we picture the Titanic crashing into. They’re these vast, many-miles-wide sheets of ice that look like their own landmass. Balog’s cameras snap photos of the icebergs all day long, for years on end, as long as it’s daylight. The images are then strung together in a time lapse. The time lapses (I guess this is a spoiler alert, so stop reading if you don’t want it given away…) show how the ‘bergs melting from all angles. These landmasses of ice that have been there for thousands of years are pushing themselves out to sea. And you can see so clearly, when the images are strung together, how they’re rushing and pushing, and breaking off; and running out of their ravines like rivers, instead of staying put as they’re supposed to.

In one moment, a colossal breakage occurs in the peninsula of one massive iceberg. It’s as if lower Manhattan is severed at 14th Street, and the whole thing is set free to tumble and crumble off into bits. Over and over, into smaller and smaller pieces, set adrift.

The bergs are also thinning. Imagine the Empire State Building, but three of them stacked on top of one another. Then imagine half an Empire State Building. That’s the observable difference in depth over just a five year period.

ImageAside from the photos, the film has great visuals. Whoever did their graphics did a wonderful job. Charts and illustrations, and that sort of thing. If you’re excited by that, and apparently I am, it’s worth a go for those. At no point in the film does data seem to have been manipulated or enhanced, or exaggerated in any way to make the point. The data and information they present really speaks for itself. No stranded polar bear animations here… 

The film is important, because it gives us tangible proof of a warming climate. The deniers will still be able to deny whether the warming is manmade. Even though Balog scoops up a handful of black sludge from beneath a layer of pristine ice, and explains the goop to be a combination of soot from wildfires and residue from carbon emissions, deniers will still say the warming is happening naturally. For the rest of us, though, it will firm our resolve and commitment to environmentalism; and hopefully remind us to vote for policy makers who will move in smarter directions for the planet.