INSTAAR affiliate James Balog is a 2010 recipient of a Heinz Award for his dramatic photography to document the rapid depletion of ancient glaciers around the world associated with global warming. He is acknowledged for his unique techniques and creative ability to capture images for pioneering scientific studies. The award includes $100,000 for unrestricted use.
In the course of photography assignments in 2005 and 2006, Mr. Balog was stunned to see that an extraordinary amount of glacier ice was vanishing with shocking speed. Features that took centuries to develop were being destroyed in just a few years or even a few weeks. These observations became the catalyst for the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS). Using materials from his local hardware store, Mr. Balog and his team adapted 39 Nikon cameras to take photos each hour of daylight at 22 glaciers in Greenland, Nepal, Iceland, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains.
“It is hard to see the effects of changing climate,” said Mr. Balog, “but when ice melts people intuitively know what that means. Melting glaciers are the most visually dramatic manifestations of climate change on the earth today. If everyone could hear the story the ice is trying to tell us, there’s no way we would be having an argument about whether humans are causing climate change. We are.”
The 125 pound camera systems are embedded in mountains and resist extreme weather conditions as they capture up to 8,000 images each per year. The images are then edited into time-lapse videos to reveal transformation of the planet and to provide valuable information to glaciologists and other scientists.
The Heinz Awards annually honor the late U.S. Senator John Heinz’s long-standing commitment to the environment. This year’s awards, totaling $1 million, recognize individuals who are addressing global change caused by the impact of human activities and natural processes on the environment.