Chasing Ice

Chasing Ice


Highlights the efforts of geomorphology trained nature photographer James Balog, as he documents the changing glacial landscapes as influenced by climate change.

IMDb: Chasing Ice (14 December 2012 (UK))

11 thoughts on “Chasing Ice”

  1. This documentary is about the work of nature photographer James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey. The purpose of this film and James Balog’s work is to educate the public and further prove the existence of global warming.

    The idea of creating Extreme Ice Survey came from Balog’s trip to the Solheim Glacier in Iceland where he observed a huge and abnormal retreat of glacier. Then, he decided to take series of photographs at different locations showing the rate of glacier activities in an effort to raise the public awareness of Global Warming.

    At the first stage of his project, he and his groups set up five cameras in Iceland, twelve in Greenland, five in Alaska and two in Montana. They expected these devices could take pictures at a constant rate, but six month later, when they came to each set of camera, all of them malfunctioned: some devices had exploded batteries; some had shattered lens; some were destroyed by falling stones. After resetting and changing a circuit to a more durable model, all devices finally worked and had recorded perfect photos of different kinds of motions of glaciers, including calving and retreat.

    Their work is very compelling which includes motion pictures showing glaciers are melting at a phenomenal velocity. Rather than statistics and confusing scientific concepts, they let the public to see the effects of global warming in a more straight forward fashion and raise people’s understanding about the seriousness of this problem. For me, even though I already knew the existence of global warming, I did not anticipate that it had such a profound influence to our world. I thought it took place at an unnoticeable rate until I saw this documentary, and now, I have fully realized the huge impact of global warming. One thing the film failed to achieve is that it did not illustrate how to solve this problem, but maybe the whole purpose of this film is to encourage people to find the answer on their own which allows further exploration rather than education.

  2. James Balog’s passion is undeniable, his vision admirable, and his execution beautiful. Chasing Ice is the documentation of this legacy. His project, the Extreme Ice Survey, is a terrifically large-scale look at humans’ ability to modify the environment and forever change the way the world has operated for millions of years. The time-lapse photography he takes of glacial change in Greenland, Alaska and Montana is simply stunning. Yet his addition of personal health issues seems to be a cry for attention and an unnecessary way to make the change he documents seem incredibly important to him. The way he describes the issues and talks about his desires in life do more than enough to convince the audience of his deep personal conviction.

    Balog’s visceral images do more than words or scientific evidence can relay. Anyone can understand the change over time from his work and recognize a problem. For this reason the film Chasing Ice is for everyone and can inform anyone. The greatest aspect of the movie is that it puts to rest the debate on whether climate change is real or not because there isn’t a feasible argument against the hard evidence.

    The film also attacks the issue from multiple angles, showing large calving events as well as slowly receding glaciers. This combination of both slightly longer term and extremely short term events form a well rounded argument and a more effective message.

  3. The best way to convince someone of a truth is to place it right before their eyes: clear, undeniable evidence that they cannot look away from. This is exactly what Chasing Ice, the documentary of National-Geographic-hired photographer James Balog’s ice work in the northernmost places of the world, attempts to do. Starting out a skeptic, Balog becomes a champion of the necessity to fight climate change and conceptualizes a plan to do just that under his Extreme Ice Survey with cameras planted for long-term time-lapse photography in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, and Montana. The results are stunning, truly art, and more convincing than any scholarly paper could ever be.

    The result of his work is beautiful and terrifying. The glaciers are receding, and receding quickly. In one particularly poignant example the glacier one camera was focused on over many months had to be moved, repeatedly, to keep up with the glacier as it shrank out of frame. These images, videos, and maps demonstrating the changes over the past few decades compared to the past few years will ultimately be some of the largest influencers in the climate change debate as it continues to go on today and in the future, and Balog won’t quit until he’s won.

    Authored by Julie Fowler

  4. Visual materials are distinct from texts in that they turn slow reasoning tasks into quick perception task. James Balog’s Extreme Ice Survey does exactly that. The retreating glacial and magnificent calving event open people’s eyes and prove to people truth of climate change through the intuitive way of “Seeing is believing”. James was turned away from the role of scientist after getting an Environmental Science degree because he didn’t like the statistics and computer model. But he picked up the camera and uses hands and eyes to reveal what needs to be seen. His photographs imprint on minds and have been making real environmental impact.

    The protagonists are the ice chasers and the ice. We see James, the Icelandic photo assistants and EIS engineers challenged by the harsh circumstances and technology complicacies. It was funny and resonating when the EIS engineer said how task like this make the regular 9 to 5 office work suddenly more appealing. The extremity is thrilling and in the long term a grinding battle that needs the most persistent. There is science in the ice. Ancient climate history is written in the melt sheet. Some ice chasers understand glaciology while the time-lapse engineers take care of expressing it. The sculptural beauty of ice is all the more poignant when we witness how fragile the massive ice really is. From Greenland to Iceland, Alaska to Montana, glaciers are retreating at increasing rate. We see the photos, the disappearance of enormous ancient glaciers. I can nearly hear the sound of the disappearance from these beautiful ancient glaciers. It was powerful. Just like what Professor Page commented, the extra carbon dioxide human released into the system is like the steroids: an athlete only need to take in a little steroids to shift regime of his or hers body off the tipping point and completely change the result.

    It is happening. In front of our eyes, what were brought to us by the ice chasers, we see the collapse of “ice cities”, the size of Manhattan buildings within hours. It is happening in the peripheral landscape too extreme for constant visit but store the environmental information from ancient time. The black historical air bubbles rising from deep within and the holes are black from the coal and carbon. We human shape the environment consciously or unconsciously. The massive ancient glacial is as heavy as buildings and as ephemeral as anything changed by human. The camera of James Balog, at least captured the memory of landscape and turn the debate of climate change into some quite reflection on what is really happening.

    The film Chasing Ice follows James Balog and his team, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team, as they struggle to collect field data and time-lapse photography of the rapidly disappearing glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska.
    “It’s not just knowing [the science of climate change],” says the voiceover in the beginning of the film. “It’s sharing it and sharing it well that can change the world.”
    Immediately I am thinking about the relationship between art and science in communicating climate change to the public. Communicating science, particularly climate science, is an ongoing issue that we are dealing with in the twenty-first century. While there is complete consensus on the current understanding of climate science among scientists, the public remains divided and confused.
    “The public needs a believable, understandable piece of evidence that grabs them in the gut,” Balog says.
    His is a photography of absence. Through HD time lapse photography, we see the loss of incomprehensible amounts of ice. Chasing Ice presents this imagery in combination with emotional anecdotes on the personal responsibility for sustainability (Balog brings up the “the world my daughters will live in” several times throughout the film) and paleoclimate data pulled from the Greenland ice cores, and is in short, thorough and effective. It is a must see for every person who speaks English (the movie is in English, otherwise it would be a must see for everyone).
    “I am here to bring you tangible evidence of the immediacy of climate change,” Balog said. And he does.
    I see now that the glaciers are not melting. They are calving. They are ripping themselves apart.

  6. Climate change is a topic which was hotly debated at its conception and is a contested topic even today. While many are convinced of the reality of the earth’s changing climate, and the urgency necessary in order to impede further deleterious effects on the planet we call home, many still are unwilling to accept this inconvenient truth which looms over us like a menacing shadow. The greatest piece of evidence confirming climate change would have to be the melting of glaciers, and grand loss of ice.
    In Chasing Ice, a documentary film released in 2012, nature photographer James Balog and his EIS (Extreme Ice Survey) team travel to Alaska, Iceland, and Greenland in order to alert the general public of the very real and very dangerous effects of climate change, via a myriad of cameras utilizing time-lapse photography, so as to capture the events occurring as accurately and as closely as possible.
    Though Balog and his team run into a stew of problems initially, including the deterioration of Balog’s knee due to the extreme physical demand of the expeditions, their success (as well as the greatest point in the film) is culminated in their recording of a massive glacier calving event. The videographers present in the film had been waiting for a number of weeks before being happily surprised by the glacier crashing in and off of itself, an event which is truly breathtaking even on camera. The film documents extensively the loss of mass in glaciers previously titanic in size, and truly brings to attention the terrible effects of global warming, which will not stop unless we ourselves step forward and take responsibility.

  7. Critical Review of Chasing Ice
    Chasing Ice is a 2012 documentary following photographer James Balog and his team conduct the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an effort to document the recession of the Earth’s glaciers. This film walks the line between documentary and biography, taking time to highlight facets of Balog’s life that affect his work. Ultimately, Chasing Ice is valuable because of its focus on how difficult environmental work can be, rather than on the work itself.
    The Extreme Ice Survey is by no means a small feat. Setting cameras pointed at major glaciers from multiple angles in multiple parts of the world is a logistical and technological nightmare. On top of working out strategies and planning footage, Balog himself endures health problems which make reaching his goal all the more difficult. In between extended shots on the glaciers or team members setting up cameras, there are plenty of opportunities for Balog to explain why his work is so important and why it matters to him. There is no doubt that he is trying to change (and save) the world with his timeseries. This is the value of the film. Balog absolutely refuses to step down from his dream, no matter what logistical, technological, or health hurdles stand before him. It is often very easy to set out to do something without thinking about how hard it might be. Chasing Ice serves to show that environmental work, though rewarding, is exceptionally challenging and not for everyone.
    Fortunately, Balog is able to get all of his footage and present on his timeseries. All his struggles and aspirations culminate in a successful presentation of his work. Chasing Ice was an amazing opportunity to see a man fight for what he thinks is right and what people need to know. As an environmentalist, one can only hope that his work has not lost its relevance. With the rise in the popularity of climate change denial, environmentalists can only push back with excellent evidence like Balog’s.

  8. Chasing Ice (2012) is a gripping documentary that raises awareness of climate change through evidence of extreme glacial melting. The film is directed by Jeff Orlowski and follows nature photographer James Balog on his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) project that seeks to document global glacial melting by stationing high-quality time-lapse cameras in arctic sites. The film features several natural phenomena that had never before been captured on film, such as the longest glacial calving event at Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, which lasted 75 minutes. The film is critically acclaimed, receiving Academy Award and Documentary Emmy nominations and awards for best picture and musical achievement in its respective category.

    While the film captures the scope of the EIS project and all of its stakeholders, it focuses mainly on James Balog and his background, his struggles in making the project a success, and his eventual transformation from being a climate change skeptic to becoming an ardent activist. The film starts off powerfully with various clips from television news channels, with a focus on anchors or television hosts expressing their skepticism or outright denial of climate change. The media and especially its disinformation and bias is a theme that pervades throughout the film, and is a constant source of Balog’s frustration. Chasing Ice documents EIS in chronological order, though intermittently it hints at Balog’s eventual activism and success.

    Chasing Ice also documents Balog’s growth in emotional attachment to the EIS project and, to a greater extent, his distress and concern regarding climate change. In his introduction, Balog is quite frank about his previous political views on climate change despite his scientific background, citing that the reason for his disbelief was that he thought climate change was too exaggerated of a problem, and that he sought to use EIS as a way to try and prove his previous beliefs wrong. Through his photography, Balog and his team becomes very familiar with certain landscapes around the world, and revisit these landscapes just to clearly see the extreme changes in glacial melting over time.

    At the end of the film, Balog chooses to compromise his own health for the purpose of capturing glacial scenes for his own personal experience. He is also shown to express extreme frustration and distress when his camera malfunctions, or at random times when he realizes the extreme consequences so much melting could have on the world and for future generations. Indeed, his family is mentioned occasionally throughout the film, and they are interviewed to describe the Balog’s character. In these interviews, he is portrayed as a determined, selfless man of the world, dedicating his entire life to EIS for everyone who suffers from the detriments of climate change.

    Balog’s documentation of glacial melting is beautiful, striking, yet horrifying at the same time. Interestingly enough, Balog does not include human or animal subjects in his photography and rather focuses on the rapid melting as a way to convince others to believe in climate change. I find this approach rather refreshing yet just as equally depressing as showing the human impacts of climate change. I am also surprised by Chasing Ice’s success given the lack of an emotional appeal to human suffering, and find its success motivating in my hopes for a more informed and concerned public on climate change issues. The beauty of the scenes that Balog captures and the well-weaved storytelling of Balog’s journey draws audiences in, and Balog’s sheer determination and effort leaves audiences empathetic to his cause, cheering on for his success in proving that climate change exists.

    While I generally do not enjoy documentaries that use one subject as the sole focus to prove a point, I am supportive of Chasing Ice’s focus on Balog as I personally found him to be a likeable, relatable individual to relate to. His project is especially novel, difficult, and impressive to pull off—I am certainly drawn in and empathetic to his failures in his first trial of the project—and the outcomes of his project are even more impressive. The changes in Balog’s character to his becoming such a outspoken activist for audiences around the world makes me believe in his cause even more strongly, and to do more on my own part for raising awareness and instigating action to abate the negative impacts of climate change.

  9. Film Review: Manufactured Landscapes – Edward Burtynsky in dialog with Chasing Ice – James Balog

    Manufactured Landscapes (2007) directed by Jennifer Baichwal documents the photographic work of artist Edward Burtynsky. The film opens with a specific look at a Chinese manufacturing plant where clothing irons are made by 23,000 workers. The iron is something virtually everyone in an industrialized nation owns. This is Burtynsky attempt to strike a humanist chord with his audience, implicating them in his narrative. While Burtynsky’s sole mission appears artistic, along the way he highlights contemporary environmental concerns related to man-altered landscapes. Displayed in galleries, Burtynsky’s photography exhibitions do not prompt the viewer with politicized dietetic information, implying what the viewer should see. Instead, he gives the viewer a chance to confront our collective reality as he presents it. In this way, Burtynsky avoids argumentation for a cause and instead presents a reality that cannot be denied.

    As discussed in class, there is an interesting focus on Burtynsky that almost detracts from the environmental issues at hand. While some students were critical of his work, I believe it merits further consideration. Admittedly, the subject matter he explores seems too large for him to adequately present, let alone offer solutions to. And yet, some found Burtynsky’s humanity lacking, missing an additional step of altruistic action. Nevertheless, he is making an important contribution to a wider conversation of these issues by spreading awareness. “Because sometimes, just being pure of heart and having good intentions and letting them be known is the most worthy contribution an artist can make.” If we think of him in this context, it would seem that the flaw in his work is his intention. While this could certainly be the case, this argument is hard to make because as an artist, his obligation is to no one other than himself, his art. I almost wonder if he is making things a little too clear for us and as a result the aversion some of my classmates had to the film/photographer is on some level a response of guilt. Similarly I wonder if some people find it trivializing that this is being viewed as art. This is perhaps almost cruel and alienating to those whose realities it captures.
    Someone has to document and circulate the image. Photographers are the purveyors of hope. They take something totally demolished and are the first to attempt the task of reconstruction. Especially in photojournalism after natural disasters, these photographers must take visually compelling images of people’s worst nightmares, and inspire action through their ability to capture the diamond in the rough. They tell the rest of us how to look at our new environment. In relation to Burtynsky, visually what he is doing is figuring out how to look at this new kind of matter in our world (e.g. massive factories, e-waste) and how to utilise it effectively.

    Breaking Ice (2012) directed by Jeff Orlowski documents the work of James Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). In comparison to Manufactured Landscapes where we see a more systematic and scientific method of documentation, the end result is slightly less artistic and more scientifically methodological. In terms of persuading the public, this is advantageous. Balog also takes a clear stance on how he sees things, and yet his contribution, effectively is the same. They both are documenting environmental issues of our time. Perhaps we perceive there is something more the photographer could be doing with the landscapes he documents. For Chasing Ice, there really is nothing James Balog and his team can do but take pictures and measurements, and then tell people about them. In a way, what if the two men’s environments were flipped, would we still have the same opinions? But this kind of hypothetical situation is not so simple, we have to think about what draws each photographer to their medium. For Balog there is also an element of shock as well. I mean watching those caving scenes is quite dramatic.

    But in order to do something about these issues, the public first has to be aware of them as such. And in all fairness the idea of global warming and ice caps melting has been in the public consciousness longer. The idea of e-waste is a relatively new and emerging issue. Perhaps in Manufactured Landscapes, we are looking more directly at specific material aspects of our life that are contributing to this negative effect. While in watching Chasing Ice, we are much more removed from the material consumption that is feeding the issue, and it is far more impersonal. The only real moment of interpersonal subject matter is Balog himself, at the beginning when the camera footage is lost and Balog breaks down.

    Photography is a way of proving the material world. This is why both men’s works are so effective. To Balog’s point, it is very hard to argue with photographic evidence. However, while this helps both photographers, I still find this incredibly problematic. There is an issue with using artistic photography to do scientific research. There is a conflict between artistic license and the scientific method. I think the only images that merritt classification as art are those that were not made with the intention of taking measurements. The medium of photography has a certain power, cultural and social power, that we associate with truth. This is why retouched images are so controversial. And yet while it is assumed to have this connection with truth, that truth is incredibly susceptible to distortion and choices of enframement. Even with Balog there are issues of enframement. Clearly not every piece of footage that was shot was included in their documentary. Stories have surfaced in the press about some of this unaired footage that has sparked quite a bit of controversy (dying polar bears).

    Map making faces similar challenges, blurring the line between science and art.There are really old maps that surely have artistic merit, but these are not art. They are scientific, meaning the cartographer is under some professional code of ethics to abide by his measurements. However, as we know this has not always been the case, as history has proven. Incorrectly made or outright duplicitous, maps place things with certainty, that visuals help to reinforce. Just because artistic license is not permitted for these visuals does not mean it is not used. Effectively, whenever used it should be noted. However, there are always going to be gaps, artifice is effective yet not scientific. A map can be wrong, art cannot. It can be illegal in the eyes of the law, but this is an entirely separate issue that affects a work in every realm of its existence, except its status as art. Chasing Ice is not art, nor does it belong in a gallery. Nor should it aim to be, as this would discredit and trivialize their findings. Chasing Ice is an effective application of the art of photography to the realm of environmental science.

    In closing, I think it is important to remember that we live in a time where science and medicine have a disproportionate amount of influence on all aspects of life. With this rise of science, the arts have become increasingly devalued. With this said, it is important to now look back at these two photographers, and thus consider their work within this simplified context. Effectively, both artists are attempting a link between science and art. This is the kind of thinking we need more of if we are to find effective solutions to the problems of our time.

    (also posted under Manufactured Landscapes)

  10. Chasing Ice is a documentary based on the world’s changing glaciers and its documentation through time-lapse photography. It was directed by Jeff Orlowski in 2012. However, James Balog, a National Geographic photographer who used to be skeptical about climate change and the science behind it, took the initiative of recording changes in certain glaciers and compress the years it took to record these changes into seconds. These videos show how the beauty of the landscape has changed throughout the years with decreases in glacier sizes, which are highlighted as the evidence behind climate change. This documentary was released amidst the climate change debate in the United States, where skeptics doubted this issue with the cherry-picking of scientific uncertainties. However, since this documentary contained years-worth of footage, it replaces the need for graphs or scientific papers and posters, especially to those who do not understand scientific jargon or data.
    Jeff Balog not only shows the success of his documentation of the change in the world’s glaciers, but he also shows the struggles he’s had to go through in order to be able to show his footage in the film. Throughout the documentary, he and his team members struggle with the cameras that they used for recording the changes in glacier sizes. Because of the Arctic’s extreme weather conditions in Greenland and Alaska, some of the cameras would get damaged from the environment’s freezing temperatures. Additionally, Balog went through physical (such as the damage in his knee joints), and mental challenges for this project as well. All in all, this film perfectly shows the hard work that Balog and his team put in for the sake of the well-being of our environment and our society’s knowledge about its vulnerability.

  11. Chasing Ice is a documentary published in 2012 by Jeff Orlowski depicting story of a natural photographer, James Balog and his work of videotaping changing ice caps in Greenland, Iceland and Alaska. Main goal of James Balog was to prove the climate change by showing melting ice and shifting ice caps. He puts up cameras in multiple stations with time-lapse photographic technique, which is taking image of the scene in consecutive time frame. By arranging the photo in the time order, people are able to see if there are any significant changes throughout the time (short as 3 months to long as years).

    James Balog was not very successful in his first try of time-lapse photograph. He checked cameras after 1 year and most of the images taken were coming out broken due to harsh weather conditions. He had to change the whole interface and hardware that controlled time-lapse and after numerous failures, he managed to make it work. His time-lapse photos showed we are in the crisis of climate change and proved that it is a problem right now. Overlapping photo presented how fast the ice was melting. Some of the landscapes have completely changed after just a year. River has been created due to melting ice and rocks once beneath the thick layer of ice were now exposed. For one occasion, James Balog and his research group had to move an angle of the camera several times because the ice was retreating so quickly. He later compared the size of disappeared ice with city of Manhattan to effectively show how serious the problem is.

    Although global warming was main goal of the study, James was also interested in taking photographs of ice structures. He said he like to take the photos of ice at night with artificial light to create “dreamlike” photographs. His hard work and passion was well shown in the film. He had a knee injury during his research because he had to hike over the mountain and walk rough grounds to set up the cameras. Even after the knee surgery and recommendation from doctor that he should not hike anymore, he brought himself up to the sites where cameras are.

    I think his hard works pays off when the film showed James presenting his time-lapse photographs to a large number of crowds. I could see that many of the audiences looked surprised by the fact that climate change is real and the damage is happening very quickly. James also say that we are not yet late to change and modify ourselves to stop the global warming. I hope that this documentary and work of James Balog’s work become more prevalent to the public to educate skeptics and general to fix our wrong doings.

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