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Chasing Ice in a Warming World

Many believe “Chasing Ice,” the powerful climate change film nominated for an Oscar for its haunting original song, “Before My Time,” should have made the cut for Best Documentary Feature too. But if you haven’t seen the virtuoso film directed by Jeff Orlowski, you still may have time to run to the nearest theater to watch it on the big screen. You may never look at the world again in the same way.

The film follows National Geographic photographer James Balog’s quest to document the melting of the world’s Arctic glaciers, where frozen panoramas will dazzle you with azure blue rivers gushing through icy channels toward the sea as they drain away the icebound regions of the world. This is not just eye candy for climate change junkies, it’s compelling evidence the Arctic is melting before us–and we’d better do something about it fast.    

Check out the clip below that captures the power of the big melt—a humongous Manhattan-size chunk of ice caught by multiple cameras calving off the Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland. The astonishing 75-minute collapse is like watching continents collide, creating a veritable tsunami in the slushy seas and adding to the oceans’ inexorable rise around the world.   


“Chasing Ice” captures only a few years of a more than century-long process of global warming that scientists predict will lead to more dangerous extreme weather events; bigger and more lethal fires, floods and hurricanes, all stirring up increasingly formidable forces of nature. And perhaps no place on earth is more prone to the disastrous effects of climate change than the Arctic. Just read what the experts are saying; here’s what the draft of the quadrennial National Climate Assessment has to say about Alaska and the Arctic regions. It’s enough to melt the icicles off an Iditarod dogsledder.

“Summer sea ice is receding rapidly and is expected to disappear by mid-century….most glaciers in Alaska and British Columbia are shrinking, a trend that is expected to continue….permafrost temperatures in Alaska are rising, a trend that is expected to continue. Thawing permafrost causes multiple vulnerabilities through drier landscapes, more wildfires, increased cost of maintaining, and the release of heat-trapping gasses that increase climate warming and jeopardize efforts to offset fossil fuel emissions through carbon management…current and projected increases in Alaska’s temperatures are expected to alter the distribution and productivity of Alaska’s marine fisheries, which lead the U.S. in commercial value.”

Scary stuff from hundreds of experts and climate scientists, but consistent with what thousands of researchers are reporting around the globe. The world’s climate is heating up due to human-caused, carbon-based emissions. Scientists are confirming that more clearly every year, and their calls to action are only growing stronger with the storms.   

Fortunately, we don’t have to just sit in our own stew and boil. We have the power to act and cut our carbon emissions so we can build a more sustainable, livable world. As President Obama mentioned in his State of the Union speech, he has the authority to cut emissions today. That includes starting with the biggest sources of carbon pollution—power plants—and implementing state-based energy-saving plans and renewable energy projects that will put people to work. Check out NRDC’s detailed plan for carbon-cutting action.

This is not a foolhardy fantasy, but a bold proposal that will move us in the right direction. All you have to do is watch clips of melting glaciers and the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy to understand why business-as-usual oil industry propaganda is not what we need right now. 

The bottom line is we don’t have a decade to waste anymore. If we don’t slow our fossil fuel emissions, the mighty glaciers we once admired, the plants and wildlife that depend on their life-sustaining ecosystems, and much of Arctic life as we know it may vanish with the last drops of melted ice that trickle into the sea. 

Forward on Climate Rally protesters in Washington    Photo: Melanie Blanding

Fifteen years ago, while on a wildlife tour off the coast of Alaska, I got my first look at the impact of climate change along the mile-long retreat of glaciers in the Kenai Peninsula, a place of breath-taking beauty where ice fields are in steady decline and temperatures are on the rise. Since then it’s gotten even worse in the region. Recent data shows the Arctic has lost more than a third of its summer ice than it had just a decade ago.

I remember when the captain of the small tour boat pulled within a few hundred yards of a glacier looming at the end of a fjord and turned off the engine. As we floated in the quiet of the freezing water, eerie sounds cracked and popped from the massive ice cliff that jutted up abruptly above us, like giant tree branches snapping off in the wind. Except there was no wind. On the water’s surface, it was calm. 

But somewhere in the massive ice structure, cracks were continuing to form.

Rocky Kistner's picture

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Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 27, 2013 6:59 pm GMT

And yet there are those who remain wilfully stupid that anthropogenic global warming does not exist.   Mankind is both too smart and too dumb for it's own good.  Too smart in figuring out ways to do things and too dumb to understand the actual consequences of their actions.I hope our children are a lot smarter than we are in understanding that just because a thing can be done doesn't mean it should be done.

Ron Wagner's picture
Ron Wagner on Feb 28, 2013 7:21 pm GMT

Watch the levels of the oceans. The coasts, and the photographic history. You will see little change over the decades. Storm surges yes, real change, no. Global warmists do not like to face this simple, but overwhelming fact. Governmental pronouncements are no longer reliable, because politics and advocacy have taken over. Scientific orthodoxy rules the universities. Just judge for yourself, by direct observation. Ice does melt, but it also reforms in equal amounts over ther entire globe. 

Global warming may be taking place, but has little to do with mankind. These flunctuations have been going on for thousands and millions of years. Most deserts were once oceans. The industrial revolution began around 1800, depending on varying opinions. 

Think for yourself, and please report any disappearing islands, not including coral atolls, or damage from storm surges. 

Max Kennedy's picture
Max Kennedy on Feb 28, 2013 7:45 pm GMT

Another head in the sand  the world is flat lack of visionary you are Ronald.  the science is and will prove you wrong.  The vast amount of ice that has melted to date has been waterborn ice flows. Take a look at the data and archimedes principle to figure out why the ocean levels haven't risen much at this time.  You fail to appreciate these have been the system buffers which act to limit effects.  Now the buffers are gone the effects will become much more pronounced.  it's too bad that there are enough of the willfully stupid people like you to prevent positive and effective action to ameliorate the situation.  Global warming and climate disruption has everything to do with the actions of man.  Hopefully you and yours will suffer as your negligence has condemned others to suffer.

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