Scientists know that Greenland is melting as the earth warms. Studies show that the island has been shedding ice at an incredible pace of 142 billion tons per year—five times faster than the rate as recently as the 1990s. But big numbers in scientific studies about far-off lands don't always resonate in the public mind, and somehow a substantial portion of the U.S. population still doesn't believe that the earth is getting hotter.
Over the years, the award-winning nature photographer James Balog grew so frustrated by that disconnect that he decided to dedicate his life to visually documenting the impact of climate change on the world's glaciers. The documentary Chasing Ice, released in the United States last month, follows his relentless and at-times harrowing quest, which began in 2007 and continues today. The results are breathtaking. Perhaps the film's greatest achievement is an enormous record of time-lapse images from multiple continents, which allow you to witness glaciers that are hundreds of thousands of years old disappearing from the earth before your eyes.
The excerpt above shows the largest glacier-calving ever caught on film. Two young members of Balog's team camped out for weeks in hopes of catching sight of exactly this. To climate scientists, the colossal event shown above is less persuasive evidence of global warming than the ever-mounting reams of data from ice cores, satellite altimetry, and so forth. After all, icebergs calving from glaciers is a natural process that would happen even if the earth's temperature were holding steady.
But Balog recognizes that, for most people, believing requires seeing. And here his team succeeded in capturing the awesome effects of climate change in a way that papers published in Science just can't. The ice that you see cleaving from Greenland is the same ice that is making sea levels rise around the world. As Greenland shrinks, storms like Sandy, Katrina, and Bopha pose ever-greater danger to the 40 percent of the world's people who live near a coast. If a shot like the one above can change the minds of people like this, Balog's excruciating efforts will be vindicated.