Art

Extreme Ice at MSI Provides Poignant Proof of Climate Change

Photography is a medium of great power. It can show us things we’ve never seen before, transport us places, and capture a moment in time like an insect in amber so that we’ll be able to view it long after it’s passed. In the case of the Museum of Science and Industry’s most recent exhibit, Extreme Ice, photographer James Balog is using his extreme talent as a photographer to capture real evidence of climate change as evidenced by the retreat of the world’s glaciers.

The fast-moving Khumbu Icefall, possibly the most dangerous route to the summit of Mt. Everest, flows several feet downhill every day. James Balog, Earth Vision Institute.

The fast-moving Khumbu Icefall, possibly the most dangerous route to the summit of Mt. Everest, flows several feet downhill every day. [James Balog, Earth Vision Institute.]

Balog is the founder and director of the Earth Vision Institute and Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), which both serve the express purpose of studying these glaciers over the course of years, in every location on Earth, and to then demonstrate what is happening. MSI teamed up with him to bring this exhibit to Chicago because they felt “responsibility to our guests, schools and communities to showcase exhibits that present complex scientific concepts in an accessible way” said Dr. Patricia Ward, the museum’s director of science and technology.

This photo displays a melt water river formed by glacier melt in Greenland. James Balog, Earth Vision Institute.

This photo displays a melt water river formed by glacier melt in Greenland. [James Balog, Earth Vision Institute.]

And it couldn’t be simpler. The exhibit is small, but incredibly impactful. We’d recommend starting with the exhibit’s brief video, narrated by Balog himself, which explains what EIS does and shows the retreat of the glaciers in a very dynamic way on the large screen. It’s a stark, beautiful environment that’s being threatened in very real ways, and within just the few moments of the film, you get a sobering view of just how real climate change is and the damage that can be done. As you continue through the exhibit, you’ll see jagged, icy worlds leap off the walls every few inches, with interactive guides every step of the way.

As warmer temperatures heat Alaska's Columbia Glacier, brilliant blue ponds of meltwater form on the glacier's surface. James Balog, Earth Vision Institute.

As warmer temperatures heat Alaska’s Columbia Glacier, brilliant blue ponds of meltwater form on the glacier’s surface. [James Balog, Earth Vision Institute.]

This exhibit is full of gorgeous shots of the world’s 200,000 known glaciers, in stark whites and beautiful blue greens, but just as full of sources and scientific research that is accessible to visitors who might need to know more, or want to know exactly how we know climate change is real. You’ll be able to see the equipment used in the research as well as some incredible shots of some of the glaciers surveyed both at the start of the survey and its end, and really get a feel for how much can be lost in just a few years. Before and after does a wonderful job bringing the point home for children and adults alike, and an ice wall situated at the back brings a fun, interactive touch to help kids connect what they’re seeing with something right in front of them.

The Bridge Glacier has retreated over two miles in the past 40 years, with 75-90 percent of its ice lost due to surface melt by warming temperatures. This photo was captured in 2012. [James Balog, Earth Vision Institute]

The Bridge Glacier has retreated over two miles in the past 40 years, with 75-90 percent of its ice lost due to surface melt by warming temperatures. This photo was captured in 2012.
[James Balog, Earth Vision Institute]

Balog’s work is unquestionably beautiful, and provides an unflinching, undeniable look at what’s happening to the world around us.  It’s sobering, but at the same time, a call to action, to use our voices and talents to take action and try to preserve these untamed wilds so that future generations will be able to explore them, and continue the fight to preserve them.

Extreme Ice opened March 23rd at MSI and entry is included in the price of regular admission to the museum. Extreme Ice will run at MSI through early 2019, and we highly recommend it, as it’s one of the most affecting exhibits we’ve seen on the subject. Click here for more information.

Categories: Art, Beyond, Museum, Museums, Photography

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