Chasing Ice (2012) ☆☆☆(3/4): Capturing disappearing glaciers


As many of you know, there are still lots of people refusing to believe the alarming progress of global climate change and its undeniable cause. The temperature of our planet has been abnormally increased during several decades because of the increasing level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere of our planet, but, despite heaps of scientific data, those people keep turning a blind eye to this while also denying that this is due to the dependence of our modern civilization on fossil fuel.

They may say there are not enough evidences for global climate change yet, but what is presented in documentary film “Chasing Ice” is another undeniable evidence showing the ongoing effects of the global climate change. While it has been several years since it was released in 2012, the film remains effective as a vivid, beautiful visual chronicle of disappearing glaciers, and it will definitely make you more aware of a big imminent change we will have to deal with in one way or another.

The documentary centers on the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), an ambitious photographic glacier study initiated by nature photographer James Balog. While looking for another nature photography project to interest him, Balog became interested in glacier, and his trip to Solheim glacier in Iceland changed his view on global climate change. He had been rather skeptical about global climate change, but what he saw from Solheim glacier changed his opinion, and he accordingly felt the need to raise more public awareness of the impacts of global climate change.

Utilizing time-lapse cameras, Balog and a group of professionals working with him tried to get a multi-year record of several arctic glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, and Alaska, and the documentary observes several trials and errors during their initial stage. While it was pretty difficult to set the cameras in right spots, there were also a number of technical problems to handle after that, and the result of their first attempt was quite disappointing to say the least. Nevertheless, they did not give up as making additional technical improvements on their cameras, and they eventually began to get satisfying results once everything clicked well together.


Closely watching Balog and other EIS members at work, director/writer Jeff Orlowski did a competent job of presenting many vivid moments on the screen. At one point, the documentary shows us small black holes on the surface of a glacier, and Balog explains to us a bit about how they are generated. In case of an awe-inspiring scene which features an icy current of glacier water flowing into a seemingly bottomless hole, we see Balog carefully approaching closer to that big hole, and his considerable risk feels palpable to us even though the camera observes him from the distance.

The documentary also focuses on Balog’s admirable dedication to his work. Despite his knee problem, he kept trying to do more for his project, and he was not deterred at all even after his eventual knee surgery. We also meet his wife and children, and we can see that he is lucky to have a family who understands and supports what he has been passionate about for years.

We later watch a number of video clips assembled from thousands of photographs shot during several years. These video clips all show the rapid decrease of glaciers over that long time period, and Balog tells his audiences that this happening was observed even during winter. In case of one glacier, it receded so rapidly that the position of the camera had to be moved several times, and it is disturbing to see the full view of how much of this glacier was gone in the end.


Another highlight in the documentary comes from Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland, which is one of the largest glaciers in the world. We see a gigantic chunk of ice being separated from the glacier and then floated away to the sea, and that moment chills us with its terrifying beauty. As watching it, I could not help but think of a similar moment in Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (2006), which also effectively demonstrated the ongoing progress of global climate change.

If you are constantly aware of global climate change like me, you surely know how devastating it will be if we don’t do anything about it. As pointed out well in the documentary, the increasing temperature of the Earth will lead to more incidents of storms, droughts, and forest fires, and the human civilization will be further threatened by the rising sea level resulted from more meltdown of Arctic and Antarctic glaciers. It is really depressing to see that global climate change still remains to be ‘controversial’ thanks to the political influences of big oil companies, and I must confess that this often makes me have lots of doubt on our future.

Anyway, “Chasing Ice” is a modest but impactful documentary film, and I came to admire Balog and his colleagues’ enormous efforts a lot after watching the film. In fact, I checked their website out of curiosity, and I was glad to see that their project has been steadily continued during last 5 years since the film came out. We do not have much time, and we certainly need more people like them.


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