On the Rocks 

James Balog launched the Extreme Ice Survey to photograph melting glaciers from Glacier National Park to Greenland. He got the images, but now comes the hard part.

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CS Indy: How do you show the extinction of a penguin colony, for instance?

Balog: Trade secret. If I tell you and you publish it there will be competitors who will poach it from me. But I just learned about this project a month ago and by the time I got done learning about it I thought, "... I can photograph that with time lapse. Nobody's done that before."

click to enlarge Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, pictured here in 2006, has retreated a total of 10 miles since 1984. When tidewater glaciers like Columbia reach an unstable phase, vast amounts of ice can be dumped rapidly into the sea. - PHOTOS COURTESY OF THE EXTREME ICE SURVEY
  • photos courtesy of the Extreme Ice Survey
  • Alaska‚Äôs Columbia Glacier, pictured here in 2006, has retreated a total of 10 miles since 1984. When tidewater glaciers like Columbia reach an unstable phase, vast amounts of ice can be dumped rapidly into the sea.

CS Indy: Something I wanted to make sure we asked about was Copenhagen. There's the feeling of going backward on global responsibility on climate change. Obviously, the U.S. didn't participate in Kyoto, but now that's expired and there's a much weaker agreement. What hope is there for global consensus that will actually make a meaningful difference?

Balog: Yeah, there's certainly a sense of frustration with what came out of [Copenhagen], but I don't think it can be that one incredibly important thing can be ignored—that is that the United States is back in with the game of engaging with the rest of the world. And I heard it over and over again from people from other countries, from other delegations. All the people who come from elsewhere say, "You guys are here! You've got an administration that's paying attention to the science, for crying out loud! Finally, finally you guys are at the table in a big way." That's a big positive development, bittersweet and frustrating as it is for us in the United States at times to think in those terms.

I think Copenhagen kind of grabbed us all by the lapels and said, "We can only go so far, and it's going to come to individuals doing individual things in individual places."

CS Indy: And you're going to be working as an ECO ambassador at the Olympics?

Balog: Yeah, Samsung hired us to be their official ECO ambassador to the Winter Olympics.

CS Indy: So what does that mean?

Balog: Giving speeches, and they show our pictures in an electronic exhibition on the big Jumbotron screens and stuff like that.

CS Indy: I heard that they're having trouble with one of their hills for the snow sports—it's just dirt.

Balog: It's been a bad year. It's been really warm and rainy.

This story originally appeared in the Colorado Springs Independent. "Extreme Ice" appears on Montana PBS Friday, Feb. 19, at noon and Sunday, Feb. 21, at midnight. Find more information about the Extreme Ice Survey at www.extremeicesurvey.org, and James Balog's photography at www.jamesbalog.com.

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