Extreme Ice Melt!

As the world readies for the global warming summit in Copenhagen, The Daily Beast offers a user’s guide to the players, the deniers’ game plan—and the best place to ride out the melting glaciers.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

James Balog / Aurora Photos

The Extreme Ice Survey, a photographic project that documents the rapid depletion of the world's biggest glaciers, is now the largest visual piece of firsthand evidence of glacial melt on our planet. The EIS is a wide-ranging glacier study that uses real-time, ground-based photography to document the dramatic changes in glacial ice around the world. It began when James Balog, an acclaimed nature photojournalist, was completing a glacier assignment for National Geographic and noticed massive amounts of ice disappearing, rapidly and without explanation. The survey covers sites in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, British Columbia, and Bolivia.

At left, an EIS team member provides scale in a massive landscape of crevasses on the Svínafellsjökull Glacier in Iceland.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

River water and seawater polish the surface of a berg in Iceland.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

"Ice diamond" in surf, near Jokulsarlon, Iceland, February 9, 2008.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Iceland, Jokulsarlon. Icebergs that originated in the vast expanse of the Vatnajokull decay and melt in a tidal lagoon.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

The 300-foot-tall calving face of Alaska's Columbia Glacier as of June 2006. Since 1984, the glacier has retreated 10 miles (17km), a process caused by interaction between global warming and glacier dynamics. The mountainside in the middle distance has a trimline revealing that the glacier was 1,300 feet (400m) thicker at its maximum in 1984. (Greenish snow-covered vegetation is above the trimline and uniform grey rock is below the trimline.)

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Aerial view of crevasses and seracs on the surface of Columbia Glacier, near Valdez, Alaska.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Columbia Glacier calves icebergs into Columbia Bay west of Valdez, Alaska. The ice seen in the bergs was deposited in snowstorms 300 to 500 years ago.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Aerial view of meltwater on the surface of Columbia Glacier in Alaska. The water is colored by varying concentrations of sediment.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

The trimline (seen on the slope to the right) shows the deflation of the ice mass of the Columbia Glacier since 1984. Greenish snow-covered vegetation is above the trimline and uniform gray rock is below the trimline. In 1984, the glacier was 1,300 feet (400m) thicker than it was at the time this picture was taken in June, 2006. The height of deflation is equivalent to the height of the Empire State Building.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Aerial view of melting, eroding ice blocks at Number One Lake on the eastern branch of Columbia Glacier in Alaska.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Icebergs calved from Columbia Glacier litter the shore of Columbia Bay, west of Valdez, Alaska. The ice scene in the bergs was deposited in snowstorms 300 to 500 years ago.

James Balog / Aurora Photos

Dr. Tad Pfeffer, a glaciologist at the University of Colorado, walks along the steep shores of Columbia Bay, Alaska. A Sitka spruce overrun by glacial advance in 1400 A.D. was exposed in the 1990s by glacial retreat.