By TONIA HILL
A new temporary exhibit debuted at the Museum of Science and Industry (MSI), 5700 S. Lake Shore Dr., Thursday, March 23.
“Extreme Ice: Portraits of Vanishing Glaciers” illustrates climate change and its impact on the globe. James Balog, photographer and founder and director of the Earth Vision Institute and Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), captured images over a multi-year period that showcase the magnitude of melting glaciers around the world.
Balog is an avid mountaineer since he was a teenager many of the places that he documented in the exhibit are places that he once visited. He said he was once a cynic about climate change despite having a background in science. Balog has a graduate degree in geography and geomorphology.
“I was a skeptic about climate change for awhile because I thought it was a story about computer modeling,” Balog said. “When I learned that it wasn’t at its essence about computer modeling, that it was about real world observations that smart women and men had made I realized climate change is real.”
MSI approached Balog in 2014 to work on an exhibition on climate change, said Dr. Patricia Ward, director of science and technology at MSI.
“We wanted to tell this story in a different way in a powerful and compelling way,” Ward said. “[Balog’s] visual documentation of how the glaciers are melting and how rapidly they are melting was the perfect mix of science and art that we felt would bring in the story of climate change to life.”
Nearly 200,000 glaciers have been mapped and cataloged worldwide according to researchers from the University of Colorado Boulder and Trent University in Ontario, Canada. Since the start of the 20th century, most of them have been retreating due to the warming climate.
Balog and his team used engineered time lapses to document 24 glaciers recording their changes. The team left cameras behind to show over time how the glaciers changed, but the task presented challenges for the team.
“I realized the story would be in the ice,” Balog said. “There was nothing that enabled you to keep those cameras [time lapse cameras] going for long periods of time in extreme weather and so that was my challenge.”
Balog and his team created a structural support for cameras to withstand at times 150 mph winds and freezing temperatures, heavy snow and rain. The electronics said Balog was the most difficult. His team has completed over 10 years in field observation using time-lapse technology. Balog aid the goal is to keep the system alive for years to come.
Large scale high-resolution photo prints in the exhibit paint scenes from around the world such as Mount Kilimanjaro ice field in Tanzania, Africa; Trift Glacier in Switzerland; The Columbian Glacier in Alaska; blue ponds formed by meltwater in Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, and much more.
For 35 years, Balog has captured photographic evidence of melting glaciers and changing ice landscapes around the world. He has become a global spokesman on the climate change and human impact on the environment. Balog is also the founder of Extreme Ice Survey, the most wide-ranging ground-based, descriptive study of glaciers ever conducted.
He has received numerous honors and awards for his work that has been featured in many public and private art collections across the country.
Guests who visit the Extreme Ice exhibit will have the opportunity to look at artifacts that Balog and his team used on their voyages. Additional items featured in the exhibit include insulated clothing, helmets, and climbing equipment.
To further understanding about climate change guests can also, touch and see a 7-foot-tall ice wall, interact with maps showcasing the potential of coastal flooding around the world from New York City to Shanghai, Copenhagen to London, see how rising temperatures will affect Chicago, and explore the other ice scientists throughout the world.
“These large-scale photos, the film, the ice wall brings people a little bit closer to that science,” Ward said.
The exhibit also features a component in which guests learn how they can make a difference in regards to climate change.
Biking 10 miles per week instead of driving in one year could save the same amount of carbon dioxide. It would be the equivalent of Illinois residents did not use gas for 4.5 months. Other alternatives include lowering the thermostat 4 degrees in the winter months and switching out light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps.
Balog hopes the exhibit will inspire and bring awareness to the young and old.
“I want people to think with their rational minds,” Balog said. “I never thought that climate change should be a political issue. I think it is a universal issue that transcends partisan politics…regardless of what they believe, their doctrine, their dogma, their ideology it touches all of us and we need to look at it.”
Extreme Ice is open to the public and will run through early 2019. It is included in museum Entry, which is $18 for adults and $11 for children ages 3 through 11. Tickets can be brought online in advance at msichicago.org.
MSI is open daily from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.