“Chasing Ice” documents the melting of glaciers, sometimes at startling speed over a short time, and it links this activity to global warming with an opening montage of flood and drought. It covers the brave and risky attempt by a scientist & photographer named James Balog and his team of researchers on the Extreme Ice Survey. Its also the story of one man’s mission to change the tide of history by gathering undeniable evidence of our changing planet. Film-maker Jeff Orlowski shares Balog’s smoldering rage at a society that refuses to face the consequences of its actions, and that rage forms the necessary spine of “Chasing Ice.”
In the spring of 2005, National Geographic photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change and a cynic about the nature of academic research. During repeated expeditions to Greenland, Iceland, Alaska and Montana, his team took stop-motion cameras, anchored them in place, and shielded them from violent winter weather. Some were destroyed, and they returned with improved installations, using ingenious methods to match up camera locations in a constantly evolving ice-scape of blinding white. The Extreme Ice Survey has been collecting the results since 2007. The images in this film are mostly three years old, but definitive.
Early on in the film, “An Inconvenient Truth”-style charts show us a millennia-long dance of carbon dioxide levels and global temperatures, rising and falling in lockstep; in the past 50 years, the CO2 soars off the charts. But numbers mean little next to Balog’s photos and Orlowski’s video footage, which between them balance on a fulcrum between beauty and distress.
Within months of a trip to Iceland, the photographer conceived the boldest expedition of his life. With a band of young adventurers in tow, Balog began deploying revolutionary time-lapse cameras across the brutal Arctic to capture a multi-year record of the world’s changing glaciers.
As the debate polarizes America and the intensity of natural disasters ramps up globally, Balog finds himself at the end of his tether. Battling untested technology in subzero conditions, he comes face to face with his own mortality. It takes years for Balog to see the fruits of his labor. His hauntingly beautiful videos compress years into seconds and capture ancient mountains of ice in motion as they disappear at a breathtaking rate. Chasing Ice depicts a photographer trying to deliver evidence and hope to our carbon-powered planet.