The PBS series NOVA has teamed up with National Geographic on a project called "Extreme Ice." The series follows adventure photographer James Balog (read the Fresh Air interview here) and a team of scientists through the world's icy regions in the largest-ever photographic study of the cryosphere.
Director of photography Michael Brown looks over Meltwater Canyon in Greenland. From here to the Alps, Balog and his team have made a visual record of changes to glaciers and ice sheets around the world.
"I have a unique opportunity," says Balog, "to use these amazing tools of photography to show people the reality of what's happening right here, right now. The day will come when these landscapes have disappeared. And the only way the memory will be preserved is through these pictures."
Twenty-six cameras were placed in 15 different locations, including Iceland, to take hourly photographs for more than two years. This time-lapse imagery has effectively preserved a shift in geological history.
Balog has been a nature photographer for over 30 years and works primarily for National Geographic. He trained as a geologist at a young age and has been a mountaineer his entire life. His interests dovetailed perfectly for this project.
Not only is this body of work invaluable for scientific researchers, but it's also a stunning photographic catalog of these majestic giants that may not be around much longer.
Digital cameras were carefully encased and placed all around the world to produce nearly three years of time-lapse imagery. This box was stationed above Columbia Glacier in Alaska. Watch the cameras being built and installed in the video below.
This aerial image of an iceberg in Greenland shows the calving that results in rising sea levels.
The Columbia Glacier in Alaska is just one of thousands of glaciers worldwide that are melting at an unprecedented pace. It has retreated over 11 miles since the mid-1980s. Extreme Ice explores the potential implications of this "big melt."
The Greenland Ice Sheet is an enormous body of ice covering almost 80% of Greenland's surface. It has experienced record melting in recent years, evident in this expanding meltwater lake, for example.
This photo by sound recordist Dave Ruddick shows James Balog climbing with ice axes down Meltwater Canyon on the Interior Ice Sheet in Greenland, while Michael Brown holds the rope at the top.
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The documentary allows viewers to follow Balog into treacherous yet breathtaking regions where no camera has gone before. The film corresponds with the release of Balog's book, Extreme Ice Now: Vanishing Glaciers and Changing Climate: A Progress Report, published by National Geographic.
Once a climate change skeptic, Balog here presents stirring time-lapse images of melting bodies of ice. By placing cameras throughout the Arctic and programming them to shoot one frame every daylight hour for three years, he and his team were able to capture unprecedented footage of the world in flux. The gathered evidence points to extreme melting in polar regions. But it also suggests that the effects of climate change are occurring at a much more accelerated rate than previously thought. Extreme Ice explores the potential implications of this undeniable "big melt."
To learn more about the process, check out this YouTube video:
Extreme Ice premieres on March 24. To view more of Balog's photography, as well as video and notes from the field, check out the Extreme Ice Survey Web site.