Ice Flows: What do 28,000 time-lapse photos tell us about glaciers?

Colorado-based photographer-adventurer James Balog, of the Extreme Ice Survey, is working on a new series of time-lapse images of the ice and glaciers on Mount Everest. In my recent story for Slate, I obtained exclusive use of some of the earliest images from the project, including a video of the Khumbu Icefall, one of the most dramatic areas of glacial change over the past 50 years. The movement of glaciers is subtle to the human eye. But with time-lapse photography, Balog can compress nine months into 10 seconds and make glacial change patently visible.

Glaciers move at, well, a glacial pace. But in recent decades, ice has been disappearing from the Arctic and mountain ranges at a shocking rate. Ice that formed over centuries is now melting in a matter of years or months, contributing to rising sea levels and profoundly altering hydrologic cycles and water supplies to regions that rely on glaciers for their water source. Still, the movement is so gradual that its scale is invisible to the casual observer. So how do you communicate the rapid melting of glaciers to nonscientists? Forget graphs, charts, and ice core measurements. Bring in time-lapse photography, a technique to compress a massive number of sequential photographs, taken at set intervals, into what looks like a sped-up video. James Balog, pictured to the right, is the founder and director of the Extreme Ice Survey, a spectacular set of time-lapse images chronicling glacial movement—the largest project of its kind. Here, Balog stands near Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, which moves at 50 feet per day, or eight times faster than it did 30 years ago.

Click here to read my slide show essay in Slate on the Extreme Ice Survey.

(Photo courtesy of Extreme Ice Survey.)

This entry was posted in Climate Change, General, Glaciers, Science, Water and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Ice Flows: What do 28,000 time-lapse photos tell us about glaciers?

  1. Bruce Kania says:

    Lisa,
    Let’s touch on the concept of floating island technology as a climate change response when we connect.
    Best,
    Bruce

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