“Chasing Ice” part 2.

Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice

In “Chasing ice” part 1. I described the experience of powering a film albeit partially and on smallish screen… But what of the film itself? Luckily even when cycling I was able to watch and listen to it. So here is this blogs first film review and the first one I’ve ever written.

The film centres around the work of photographer James Balog. After studying geomorphology to masters level he decided to become a nature photographer rather than work with dull computer modelling (as he saw it). National geographic magazine asked him to photograph glaciers for a feature. This work demolished his climate scepticism (when he saw how fast glaciers were melting) and led to him coming up with an idea in principle so obvious you wonder why no one else had thought of it before. The areas where glaciers are melting are by definition not very hospitable and not a place where the average human wants to stand around watching the thaw happening. Why not set up cameras and do time lapse photography over a period of years at the same points and see what’s happening? He set-up the Extreme Ice Survey to do just that.

I say in principle its easy, but in practice the team he assembled had to develop some very robust technology and get it into some challenging positions to get the photos. Each camera was linked to custom made timers, enclosed in very strong casing and attached to wherever necessary using mounting brackets drilled in the rocks. The whole kit was powered by very small photovoltaic modules. Cue lots of shots of men running around mountains with ice axes all over the northern hemisphere in Iceland, Greenland and Alaska.

The film takes you through the whole process using a fly on the wall crew, with Mr Balog taking centre stage throughout. You have to have some drive to achieve this and he does in spades. The first lot of custom made electronic timers fails and you see him break down up the mountain. Many of boxes containing the kit are demolished by falling rocks or ice. All the ice climbing he has done has worn his knees out and the film shows him having a third operation on one knee. Despite being told to go up the mountains again he’s off to Iceland, although at one point he lets his team do the work. Some of the most frightening shots are his pictures of “Moulins”, holes opened up on the Greenland ice sheet by melting water. He and his team climb down into these to get some amazing shots of the water failing into a seemingly bottomless hole. In fact the still shots shown in the film (too few) are stunning. The best is one of a huge block of ice front lit by lighting with the stars visible in the sky overhead.

Ultimately of course he succeeds in getting time lapse photography at about 20 glaciers, meaning in effect he has a slow motion video. This is the most depressing bit of the film. All the glaciers he films are in retreat, a glaciologist interviewed states that less than 1% of the glaciers in Iceland are growing. In one case the retreat was so fast that the camera had to be moved three times. The most moving bit of the film is the audience reaction when he does a tour. The looks of stunned disbelief make you wish everyone could see it.

**** A few more stills and a bit more science would have been good. It would also have been interesting to put some cameras in the southern hemisphere to capture the same problem there and some interaction with climate sceptics would have been interesting. If you like this article could you like us on Facebook at “No oil in the lamp”.

Neil

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