Acclaimed Documentary ‘Chasing Ice’ to Make Television Debut

Sculptural, architectural and stunningly beautiful. The world’s glaciers are one of nature’s most impressive and enduring backdrops — epic in size and grandeur. They are also a massive, undeniable casualty of climate change. Now, internationally acclaimed photographer James Balog has captured hundreds of thousands of majestic glacier images that serve as unprecedented visual evidence — grabbing at the gut and allowing us to visualize the change firsthand.

CHASING ICE, winner of best cinematography at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, documents Balog’s three-year quest to capture the natural world in transformation. Placing 26 time-lapse cameras in Iceland, Greenland, Alaska and Montana, Balog’s lenses bear witness to the tension between the huge, enduring power of the glaciers and their ultimate fragility as they crumble piece by piece into the ocean. Compressing years into 90 arresting minutes, the film offers a breath-taking — and haunting — visual retrospective of glaciers receding at unprecedented speeds, and massive pieces of ice sheets breaking off into the ocean.

Balog and his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) team have launched an ambitious plan to create a comprehensive record of unprecedented geologic changes with amazing results. His cameras capture glaciers as they recede more kilometers in the past 10 years than in the previous century. In just one hour, the team captures a 450-meter ice block calving, or breaking off, into the ocean below. And, in Chasing Ice’s most striking sequence, Balog’s team captures a mammoth ice block the size of lower Manhattan tumble into the watery depths — the largest calving event ever caught on film.

As EIS team member Adam Lewinter puts it, “The only way you can try to put it into scale with human reference is if you imagine Manhattan. All the sudden, all those buildings just start to rumble and quake and peel off and just fall over … and roll around. This whole massive city, just breaking apart in front of your eyes.”

Rappelling in the Sheets

A scientist whose youthful brashness paved the way for an acclaimed photography career, James Balog finds that his EIS is no easy task. Deploying cameras across the brutal Arctic by helicopter, canoe and dogsled, delicate electronics must withstand hurricane-force winds, -40ºC temperatures, blizzards and falling rock. With the aid of National Geographic engineers, Balog and the EIS team develop a unique time-lapse system, allowing cameras to shoot frames every daylight hour for three years. To document Chasing Ice in action, Balog probes deep into the underworld of the ice — rappelling into crevasses and scaling vast ice canyons, carved out by raging torrents of meltwater. Along the way, Balog comes face-to-face with his own limitations as severe conditions take their toll. Interviews from his team, family and peers illustrate how strongly Balog feels about this issue, and Chasing Ice captures his raw emotion as he sees pain set in, technology fail and glaciers recede right before his eyes.

Once a climate change skeptic, Balog questioned humans’ capability of changing the basic physics and chemistry of the entire planet, but the EIS has left him without a doubt. In addition to its effects on glaciers, climate change also intensifies the impact of hurricanes and typhoons, leaving more high water along coastlines and pushing water farther inland during big storms.

“The sea level rise that will happen in my daughter’s lifetimes, will be somewhere between a foot and a half and three feet. Minimum. That doesn’t sound like a lot if you live in the Rocky Mountains, but if you live down in Chesapeake Bay, along the Gulf Coast of the United States, in the Ganges flood plain — that matters a lot. It matters in China, it matters in Indonesia. A minimum of 150 million people will be displaced — that’s like approximately half the size of the United States. And all of those people are going to be flushed out and have to move somewhere else,” says Balog in the film.

“When my daughters, Simone and Emily, look at me 25 or 30 years from now and say, what were you doing when, when … global warming was happening and you guys knew what was coming down the road. I want to be able to say, ‘Guys, I was doing everything I knew how to do.’”

Chasing Ice Airs this


  1. Robert Walker
    April 19, 2013, 8:48 pm

    After watching the camera tricks of “Chasing Ice” and listening to a useless sermon on Global Warming which was intended to fill every viewer with the emotion of GUILT, I can honestly say I’ve rarely been as intellectually insulted in my life. Currently, the CO2 concentration in our atmosphere is over 383 ppm. That is a historical high to the best of our ability to discern, however, while Americans are abused and battered by media propagandist like NatGeo, we are no longer the primary polluter on the Earth. Before smothering me in emotional filth, you go get China and India to stop being the number one and number two producers of CO2 before you ask me to shut down my country and leave it economically prostrate. Saving the planet might be your ultimate goal, but you will find poverty to be the ultimate form of violence against human beings no matter what your original good intentions are. You will discover that starvation and disease will be much worse an existence for the 320 million people of a misled America than the unproven effects of Global Warming. Let me know if the Chinese or anyone in South Asia gives you any environmental concessions and, in the meantime, get off my back!

  2. kathy mccafferty
    United States
    April 19, 2013, 10:15 pm

    Who, exactly, is on your back, Robert? And how, specifically, does changing an economy from one dependent on fossil fuels to one dependent on modern, sustainable, job producing sources of energy leave our country economically prostrate? Guilt is useless unless it causes action. Seriously, who, exactly, is on your back?

  3. kathy mccafferty
    April 19, 2013, 11:38 pm

    Thank you, James Balog, and your diligent assistants. You have done your part, beautifully.

  4. Jack
    April 20, 2013, 5:08 am

    Robert,you are right that China and in a lesser extent,India are major producers of CO2,but it is a global problem,China will pay a heavy price for this and they are paying right now,I do not expect the evil CCP to change their policies,still it is useful for the world to know that it is a serious problem.NatGeo,keep it up and also put pressure on China and India.USA will be saved by the third industrial revolution,the 3D printing.

  5. Van Collinsworth
    April 20, 2013, 1:31 pm

    Potentially, the most important film of our time. “Chasing Ice” is simultaneously breathtaking with facts that are deeply disturbing. It’s a must view. We are likely “beyond the tipping point”, but anything that we have power to do and fail to do will only make the impacts of climate change more catastrophic. Suicidal destruction of the earth’s life support systems creates the ultimate poverty and violence. “Shutting down” the country is not required, but change is. Asking someone else to act first ignores the economic opportunity in change and exhibits callous irresponsibility. The United States has been a progressive world leader in many ways – now is not the time to shirk our responsibility and become a failure by failing to lead by example.

  6. Darrell Howard
    April 21, 2013, 10:49 am

    So, in the opinion of Mr. Walker, if the American lifestyle has to change, it isn’t worth even trying save the planet. It is also sufficient to “do nothing” so long as another country is producing more GHGs than are we. The concept of ‘lead by example’ appears lost on him and he is content to leave things as they are.

    It’s sad but true that almost half of the American population follow this short sighted belief, spurred on by ‘entertainers’ in right-wing media outlets who know there is no debate on the issue of global warming but continue to argue against it to line their own pockets through book sales, public appearances, hosting talk shows and running subscription services. ‘Unproven effects of “Global Warming”‘, indeed! As if rising water levels, unprecedented weather extremes and the costs associated with these weren’t enough!

    Mr. Robert Walker, I beg to differ on the ‘feeling’ this film has left with you: to be intellectually insulted implies something exists to insult.

  7. Mary Lins
    April 21, 2013, 3:46 pm

    What a spectacular, beautiful and scary film is “Chasing Ice!”
    I hope it will be shown several more times so I can alert friends to watch it. Conversely, please put the whole episode on your website. Congratulations to James Balog and EIS for their efforts to make visible to everyone the loss of glaciers through global warming.

  8. Brian M
    April 22, 2013, 1:24 pm

    Would love to see this streamed online. USA is accountable – there is scientific evidence (search IPCC AR4 FAQ 7.1) showing that most CO2 in the atmosphere in excess of about 280 ppm (currently 390 ppm or more depending on the hemisphere – search NOAA CO2) is due to fossil fuel burning. since about the year 1850, USA and Europe have burned the most fossil fuel for energy. There is no doubt about that. Hence, the USA is culpable. Action has to be taken. As a US citizen, I want to be a part of the country that leads this change in our lifestyle and energy economy. As a commenter pointed out, global warming is a global issue.

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  10. J Fried
    April 24, 2013, 5:33 pm

    It is a shame that the first commenter above was so negative. Robert Walker, said “you go get China and India to stop being the number one and number two producers of CO2 before you ask me to shut down my country and leave it economically prostrate.” First, he is saying that even if we are doing something wrong, we should get others to stop first. Not exactly the high road, but from the tenor of his comments, I am not surprised. Second, it is an unrealistic leap of his imagination to state that by cutting back pollution we will shut down our country or leave it prostrate. Finally, as much as I am grateful that he watched this important movie, when he said, “I’ve rarely been as intellectually insulted in my life” it appears that while the bar is not set very high, I find that statement equally unrealistic.

  11. Dhanang
    April 26, 2013, 5:09 pm

    One man risked his life and both legs could be the price for this documentary to be seen by the rest of the world, yet there is still some people like Robert that get it all wrong.

  12. Noah
    May 6, 2013, 2:11 pm

    Robert Walker,
    Please open your mind a little more and see what is going on. Piggybacking on Darrell Howard’s comment of ‘lead by example’ is exactly what needs to be done. Waiting for someone else to start something in order for you to follow does not seem inline with someone who would be ‘intellectually insulted’ by a fil such as “Chasing Ice.”
    As said by the great Albert Einstein, “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.” I know it is a very judgmental to say this but I at times I truly wholeheartedly agree. Mr. Robert Walker, it is partly because of people like you, that this country is going down the drain. I respect you as a person, like I do every person, but certain individuals minds and ideas, which can be changed, I look down upon with great worry, for this country and its people.

  13. Jacques Paulsen
    Portland, OR
    May 11, 2013, 10:55 pm

    Robert Walker is a paid “hack” of the oil industry. He comes into these blogs and makes himself sound tough, discredits the work of tens of thousands of climatologists who are trying to save people’s lives and then he leaves hoping the “sheeple” will follow his “direction” of discounting the reality of climate change. Climate change is REAL and ol Bob is just a guy getting paid so he can pay the mortgage and he’s willing to sell his family down the river to do it. That’s the amazing part. I hope I am there when he learns the truth and begins to watch love ones suffer from his ignorance and greed.

  14. solomon uwakwe
    Lagos, Nigeria, West Africa
    June 26, 2013, 10:05 am

    Tomb ups and kudos to James balog. Robert should just allow researchers and great minds to move on with their good efforts. If what James has done is film trick, so be it, after all it will take high sense of innovation and creativity to come out with that kind of chasing the ice photo trick. But let those that believe in the research work get prepared for the rainy day.

  15. GDFraml
    NW USA
    June 29, 2013, 9:11 pm

    Hauntingly beautiful ice cold facts will melt your mind … if not your heart.

  16. Ann
    Tx, USA
    August 25, 2013, 12:41 pm

    Thanks James Balog and his team of EIS..
    I can’t help to think about the fact is from “1902 to 2000 the lice was retreated for 8 miles, but from 2000 to 2010 it retreated 9 miles !!In 10 years in retreated miles than it has in the previous 100 year!!! ”

    We can all do the math… what this is gonna happen in the next 20 or 30 years? and where is those ice water is going to be ?
    this is real, isn’t ?