Editors Note: Members of the Extreme Ice Survey team are returning to South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula to maintain time-lapse camera systems. These cameras have been patiently snapping a photo every hour of every day since they were installed and are part of a much larger project that includes 38 time-lapse cameras spread throughout Greenland, Iceland, North America, Europe and the Himalaya, which collectively create visual records of these changing landscapes. For all posts in the series click here.
What started as an isolated assignment for James Balog in 2005 to capture photographs of glaciers in Iceland for a story in The New Yorker magazine has grown into a much larger project. The Extreme Ice Survey currently operates 38 time-lapse cameras in Greenland, Alaska, Canada, Iceland, the Alps, the Himalaya and most recently, on South Georgia Island and the Antarctic Peninsula. These cameras patiently capture one image every hour, of every day, month after month, year after year, with no regard for rain, snow, or sleet. With more than 1 million images to date, the Extreme Ice Survey project is creating visual records of landscapes in transition and the time-lapse images have been widely shared through art exhibits, educational material and the Emmy award-winning documentary, Chasing Ice.
During February 2014, our team traveled aboard Lindblad Expedition’s National Geographic Explorer to install time-lapse cameras on the Antarctic Peninsula and South Georgia Island. The camera systems include a Nikon D3200 digital camera, a custom waterproof case and timer, and are completely powered by a solar panel and battery. We typically install cameras on bedrock outcrops above the glacier to ensure sufficient perspective to monitor the glacier’s flow and extent. We previously installed nine cameras at five different sites, including Cierva Cove and Neko Harbor on the peninsula. We were graced with sunny skies and warm temperatures, and often, friendly visits from the neighborhood welcoming committee, staffed by penguins and seals.
You can see why authors have long struggled to describe these visually stunning landscapes with words alone. The sharpness of the peaks, the contrasts between ice and ocean, the way the mountains are draped in globs of snow and ice; verbose descriptions of their grandeur fail and that’s even before considering the charismatic penguins and the soft multi-colored alpenglow bathing the entire scene. However, despite the idyllic and distant nature of this location, it is one of the fastest changing landscapes on the planet. Atmospheric temperatures have increased by more than 5° F since the 1950s, the majority of glaciers are flowing faster and have thinned in recent decades and numerous ice shelves (floating extensions of glaciers as large as Rhode Island), have completely collapsed. In short, these landscapes look very different from what they did 50 or in some cases, just 10 years ago.
Over the next month, we’ll return to service these cameras and install additional cameras at new sites, including the Marr Ice Piedmont near the U.S. Antarctic Program’s Palmer Station and South Georgia Island’s magnificent Nordenskjöld Glacier.
Stay tuned over the next month as we cross the infamous Drake Passage, as we download our images for the first time and install new time-lapse cameras, all in an effort to create visual records of some of the most rapidly changing landscapes on the planet.