Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Chasing Ice

CHASING ICE           B                     
USA  (80 mi)  2012  d:  Jeff Orlowski

Much of this plays out like a child’s curiosity about the planets, wanting to know more about this world around us, becoming more deeply involved in further scientific exploration until James Balog appears, one of the world renowned environmental photographers working for National Geographic.  Initially he was fascinated how the ocean waves splashed along shoreline icebergs in Iceland that were only three or four feet high, or shooting ice under a night sky, enamored by the beauty of it all.  But eventually this becomes a provocative counterpoint to those who still insist Global Warming is a myth.  Balog targets glaciers around the world, using 36 time-lapse cameras shooting 16 different glaciers over the course of several years, shooting once every half-hour during daylight hours in remote locations of Alaska, Bolivia, Canada, France, Greenland, Iceland, Nepal, Switzerland, and the Rocky Mountains, producing nearly a million pictures over the course of three years, offering irrefutable evidence that melting glaciers around the world have retreated in the last 10 years distances that it took them 100 years prior to that, all attributed to the rapid rise of the planet’s temperature, which has been traced by scientists to the impact of humans releasing carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide emissions into the atmosphere.  According to Balog, geological activity is usually measured in the hundreds of years, but in our lifetime we are currently living in a period of profoundly active geological change, as there has been such an explosion in the massive shifting of ice formations, literally elevating the sea level, where this is having an impact in oceanic weather patterns, causing greater natural weather disasters, as the water level is higher closer to the shorelines, creating more destructive flooding.  The enormous release of Arctic water from the melting polar icecaps is documented by Balog and a small camera crew as they literally hike to the sources of greatest melting. 

Balog initiated his Extreme Ice Survey project in March 2007, setting up cameras in some of the most difficult to reach places on the planet, only to return 5 months later to discover uniform malfunctions in the equipment, eventually changing to something less complex and more durable, which has been working perfectly ever since.  While the individual photos showing before and after shots are impressive, nothing shows the devastating magnitude of the change like videos that compress years into seconds, showing mountains of ice disappearing before our eyes.  But in order to get these shots, Balog and his carefully chosen international team of younger field coordinators, Adam Levinter and Svavar Jónatansson, had to travel by helicopter, canoe, and dog sled across several continents, setting up tents and surviving the harshest elements, before scaling the heights of mammoth icebergs, then traversing down into the cracks where the water is furiously flowing, Chasing Ice (2012) Clip - YouTube (1:43).  Ice in the Arctic could disappear entirely during the summer months by 2100, or even sooner.  What’s different and harder to predict about this climate change is the effects are no longer a result of natural geological behavior, but entirely man made, the results of which are completely unpredictable, as they’ve never happened before.  In the past 100 years, the atmosphere has accumulated 40% more carbon dioxide than anytime over the past one million years.  While these numbers have been trotted out before, it’s hard for people to comprehend without seeing evidence first hand, which is exactly what this film documents.  Anyone who’s been to Glacier National Park in Montana knows that of the 150 glaciers found in the park a century ago, only 27 remain, where it’s predicted all will be gone by 2030, where Balog suggests they’ll have to rename the park to Glacierless Park.

Despite his enduring intensity, the weakest part of the film focuses on Balog himself, offering personal details the audience could do without, as what’s most spectacular is the incredible imagery obtained from this project.  If traversing across the barren polar icecaps was not daring enough, capturing some of the most astonishing footage, where in 20 years one glacier shown shrunk in vertical height by more than 1200 feet, or the size of the Empire State building.  Balog truly outdid himself by sending his team to camp out in front of a glacier for several weeks, where literally nothing happened at all for the first few weeks, as these guys just stared into the ice all day waiting for something to happen, culminating in the most astounding footage of all when they capture 75 minutes of a spectacular glacial collapse, actually captured on nine different cameras, where the ice literally implodes upon itself in a domino effect, giant chunks toppling into the sea, a unique experience never seen before where ice larger than the size of Manhattan literally disappears before our eyes.  While this is visually breathtaking, the most extensive visual record of glaciers ever recorded, there’s also an element of sadness and loss, as this ice isn’t renewing itself, where once it’s gone it’s gone, a devastating loss to the planet.  In the future, the rising sea levels can only lead to displaced millions living in settlements near the ocean shorelines, and present levels of carbon dioxide are expected to double within the next 50 years, raising the average global temperature by about 3 degrees.  As some may argue there are currently glaciers expanding, but scientists in the Yukon found 4 expanding, about 50 have disappeared completely, and more than a hundred are diminishing rapidly, so the evidence suggests this is nothing like a natural process.  A man made problem requires a man made solution, where centuries after Darwin, rather than embracing science, we're still arguing about evolution.  Scientists remain the most distraught over the impending emergency, while the public remains relatively unconcerned.  Until a breakthrough occurs, the photographic data shows just how quickly thousand year old blocks of ice crumble within minutes into the sea, lost forever. 

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