Chasing Ice: A Cinematic View of Climate Change

Stephen Smith | December 14, 2012 | Climate Change, Events
chasing ice movie poster

SACE staff member Kacy Rohn contributed to this post.

A new documentary on the melting of glacial ice is making waves at film festivals and around the environmental community.  The award-winning Chasing Ice is garnering praise for its dramatic time-lapse portrayals of melting glacial ice that clearly demonstrate the devastating impact of climate change.

While melting Arctic ice may seem like a far away issue for us in the Southeast, the links to accelerating sea-level rise are undeniable.

This is already having a serious impact on Southeast coastal communities and will place many of our treasured places at risk.

Chasing Ice brings the issue to life in such a dramatic way that it may have the power to convince skeptics that this seemingly distant problem has a massive global impact, one that is already being felt close to home.

James Balog
James Balog of the Extreme Ice Survey

The man profiled in the film may not be exactly who you’d expect.  While it’s true that environmental photographer James Balog has a history of documenting the interaction between the human and natural worlds, he admits to being somewhat of a converted climate change doubter.   In a recent Nightline interview, he confesses that when he first heard that human activity was accelerating climate change, [he] “sort of had a knee-jerk, reflexive skepticism.”

Fortunately, he came to accept the science behind climate change, and became so passionate about speaking out that he battled not only fierce weather conditions, but his own failing knees to bring this project to fruition.

In an unprecedented undertaking known as the Extreme Ice Survey, Balog and his team placed rugged cameras at 16 glacial sites around the world, including Greenland, Iceland, the Himalayas, Alaska, and the Rocky Mountains, then left the cameras behind, each programmed to take one picture every half hour of daylight for the next three years.

What emerged was an extraordinary look at the speed at which glacial ice is melting. The on-site, time-lapse photographs offer a drastically different view than what has been achievable via satellite in the past.  Images of collapsing ice shelves and receding glaciers unfold in near real time.  Even Balog and his team seem shocked by what they find when they retrieve the cameras and view the images they captured.   No one on the team expected the changes to be so dramatic over the three-year period of the project.

Balog hopes the striking portrayals of rapidly melting and crumbling ice will convince skeptics of the realities of climate change where data alone have not succeeded.  As comes across in his Nightline profile, he is clearly motivated by a passion for the beauty of the icy landscape as well as by the welfare of his two daughters, whom he wants to be able to say that he did all he could to halt the dire consequences of climate change impacts.  In Balog’s case, this means using his talents as a photographer to present evidence of climate change in a way that resonates on an emotional level with audiences.

The trailer for the film gives a brief look at some of these powerful images and the technological and human struggles involved in capturing them.  In one shot, Balog retrieves the memory card from the back of a camera and pauses.  Contemplating the technology he holds in his hand, he reflects: “This is the memory of the landscape.  That landscape is gone.  It may never be seen again in the history of civilization.”  Balog’s hope is that the images of this vanishing landscape have the power to change minds, hopefully before it’s too late.

In the Southeast, Chasing Ice is currently only scheduled through central and south Florida.  Visit the film’s website to learn more and to request that Chasing Ice comes to a theater in your town.

Birthday Canyon, Greenland Ice Sheet


Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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