An Icy Art Installation Clear As Crystal

“Thinning Ice”, an installation commissioned by Swarovski for its ninth year at Design Miami (December 3 – 7, 2014), links melting glaciers and climate change through a three-dimensional experience. Architect Jeanne Gang collaborated with James Balog, a National Geographic filmmaker/photographer, to create the installation, which includes a kind of glacier sculpture and a series of photographs, as well as video.

Swarovski Crystal's headquarters in Wattens, Austria. (Photo: HellasX/Wikimedia Commons)
Swarovski Crystal’s headquarters in Wattens, Austria. (Photo: HellasX/Wikimedia Commons)

The installation was inspired by Balog’s photographs of the shrinking Stubai Glacier in the Austrian Alps, where Swarovski is headquartered, over a three-year period. The Stubai photographs are part of Balog’s ongoing “Extreme Ice Survey,” an innovative, long-term photography project founded in 2007. The project consists of 28 cameras at 13 glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, the Nepalese Himalayas, Alaska and the Rocky Mountains of the United States, which have been recording the rapidly depleting glaciers every thirty minutes over the past several years.

In an effort to bring Balog’s photographs to life, Gang displayed a fluid-formed luminous block, which represents a melting glacier, in the center of the room. This structure, which resembles a kind of table, is pocked with asymmetric holes embedded with a diverse selection of Swarovski crystals, from unprocessed fragments and shards to finely finished pieces. The holes are meant to resemble cryoconite holes, tiny perforations found on glaciers that are created by wind-blown dust made of rock particles, soot and microbes.

The installation’s floor is set with curving illuminated cracks, also filled with small bits of Swarovski crystal, which resemble the crevasses one might find in a receding glacier. Gang finished the installation room with an 11.5-foot tall and a 70-foot long media wall, which presented a running slideshow of epic photographs and video footage of the world’s glaciers.

(Source: Super Architects/Facebook)
Details from the “Thinning Ice Installation” (Source: Super Architects/Facebook)

 

“‘Thinning Ice’ is a work which captures the haunting beauty of the Earth’s threatened glaciers in a powerful, almost elegiac way,” said Nadja Swarovski, a member of the Swarovski Executive Board, in a statement. The immersive nature of the work is meant to inspire visitors to contemplate the implications of and solutions to the melting of the world’s glaciers.

Swarovski chose to showcase glaciers in Florida to highlight its commitment to sustainability. For 14 years, the company has funded its Swarovski Waterschool Program, which educates children around the world in the principles of sustainable water management. Swarovski also sources materials from suppliers that comply with the United Nations Global Compact’s human rights and environmental standards.

GlacierHub has posted other stories recently about artists from the United States, Italy, and Peru whose work centers on glaciers.

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For An Alien World, Look No Further Than Iceland

Iceland's Svinafellsjokull Glacier played a prominent role in Christopher Nolan's Interstellar. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)
Iceland’s Svinafellsjokull Glacier played a prominent role in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)

After hundreds of years, the Svinafellsjokull Glacier is ready for its close-up. The Icelandic glacier has a starring role in Interstellar, the sci-fi movie about a team of astronauts lead by Matthew McConaughey that travel to a distant planet in search of a new home for the human race as the Earth becomes uninhabitable.

The glacier, and Vatnajökull National Park where it resides, are stand ins for the of icy, alien world the film is meant to depict. Little set dressing was required for the mid-September 2013 shoot, only a huge model of McConaughey’s space ship was brought to the section of Iceland’s largest glacier.

“How would you recreate the biggest glacier in Europe in a studio?” said actor David Gyasi, who plays one of the astronauts, in a promotional video for the movie. “You wouldn’t.”

The glacier is getting plenty of exposure worldwide thanks to the movie. Interstellar has taken in more than $200 million at the international box office since it opened last week.

The space epic isn’t director Christopher Nolan’s first time filming at the glacier. In 2005’s Batman Begins, Nolan used Svinafellsjokull and other areas of Iceland as stand ins for the Tibetan Himalayas, a remote training ground for Bruce Wayne, where he learns how to fight prior to becoming Batman. Iceland is easier to access for film crews than the Himalayas and other mountain ranges, so the tiny North Atlantic country often plays many real and imagined locations.

Interstellar is hardly the first, or the last, movie to take advantage of Iceland's frozen landscapes. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon - © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)
Interstellar is hardly the first, or the last, movie to take advantage of Iceland’s frozen landscapes. (Photo credit: Melinda Sue Gordon – © 2014 Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc. and Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved.)

Iceland’s unique and varied landscapes have also been featured prominently in TV and film before. The country stood in for another alien landscape in Prometheus, the frozen northern region Beyond the Wall in HBO’s Game of Thrones, and the black sands of Iwo Jima in Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.

This year has been a big one for glaciers in the movies. GlacierHub previously wrote about Austria’s Hintertux glacier appearing in Snowpiercer, a movie about the last of humanity zooming around a frozen Earth on a train. It’s worth noting that both Snowpiercer and Interstellar feature humans searching for a way out of climate problems plaguing the planet. Perhaps the most feared future in science fiction isn’t a world of warm temperatures and high seawater, but one too frozen for people to live.

 

 

 

 

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Glacier stories you may have missed this week – 9/29

Nepal tourism adapts to climate change

“Weather can ruin the vacation while climate can devastate a holiday destination. Climate change not only impacts on tourism directly by changes in temperature, extreme weather events and other climatic factors, but it will also transform the natural environment that attracts tourists. Despite the global nature of tourism industry and its economic contributions, scholars of climate change research have hardly acknowl- edged the threat of climate change to the tourism industry.”

Read more about Nepal’s tourism industry’s efforts to deal with climate change in this study in the International Journal of Disciplinary Studies.

 

Pakistan needs more glacier data-sharing to mitigate disasters

“‘Our elders used to say this glacier was very high, so high there was no one living here. This was a giant glacial lake,’ Sajjad Ali said. Standing on a cliffside, he pointed down at the Hopar Glacier, more than a 1,000 metres below, its surface covered by massive boulders it had swept out of its way as it carved a valley through the Karakoram mountains.”

Read more about in Pakistan’s efforts to monitor glaciers in IRIN Asia.

 

Austrian and Swiss Alps look back at their history…way, way back

“The landscapes in mountain regions are often strongly influenced by the steep climatic gradients and by past variations in climatic conditions. Therefore, the study of geological landscape features such as moraines, landslides and rock glaciers with appropriate geochronological approaches allows insights into past variations in climate.”

Read the full study in the July 8, 2014 issue of Quaternary Science Reviews.

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In state of the climate report, mountain glaciers get special attention

(Ruth Hartnup/Flickr)
(Ruth Hartnup/Flickr)

The year 2013 hasn’t been a good one for climate change (as you might’ve guessed) and mountain glaciers have been singled out, according to a new report released by the National Climatic Data Center.

The largest climate data archive in the world sits in North Carolina’s Appalachian Mountains and contains 14 petabytes of information, enough to stream 23 million movies. Asheville, N.C. is home to the NCDC, a division within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – that provides climatological services and data worldwide. For the last 24 years, NCDC scientists have been producing an annual report on the state of the world’s climate. These reports provide updates on global and regional climate and notable weather from the preceding year. Published by the American Meteorological Society in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), this report is a large international collaboration. The most recent report, covering the year 2013, involved over 400 scientists from 57 countries.

(Luca Carturan/University of Padua)
(Luca Carturan/University of Padua)

Among the 2013 report’s distinguished highlights, along with carbon dioxide levels topping 400 parts per million, and the record-breaking super-typhoon Haiyan, is the news about mountain glaciers. The supplementary report begins by explain the importance of these glaciers:

“Around the globe, some 370 million people live in basins where rivers derive at least 10 percent of their seasonal discharge from glacier melt. Glacier melt provides drinking water for human populations, and irrigation water for crops. Dams on glacier-fed rivers are key sources of hydroelectric power in some parts of the world. The retreat of the majority of mountain glaciers worldwide is one of the clearest signs that climate is warming over the long term; some glaciers have already disappeared.”

The report indicates that mountain glaciers lost more ice from melt than they gained from seasonal snow-fall for the 23rd year in a row. This pattern is expected to continue. Since 1980, glaciers have lost the equivalent of 50 feet (more than 15 meters) of water.

glacier mass balance, 1980-2012Five regions with long histories of data are used in the report as a barometer for the health of mountain glacier: Austria, Norway, New Zealand, Nepal, and the Northern Cascades of Washington State. The news – a pattern dominated by loss – is grim. Of the 96 glaciers evaluated in the Austrian Alps, 93 are retreating, two are stable, and just one is advancing. Norway is much the same: 26 of the 33 are retreating, another four are stable, and only three are advancing. Things are worse in North America (the 14 glaciers of the Northern Cascades in Washington State and Alaska are all significantly retreating) and in New Zealand, where all 50 are anticipated to have retreated by the end of the 2013 melt season. Only in Nepal, where the 3 glaciers monitored are near equilibrium, this near-balance reflects an unusually good year. In 2013, those glaciers received the largest amount of snow accumulation in the last seven years.

The plight of diminishing mountain glaciers has serious implications for the health, food, energy resources and livelihoods of the 370 million people who live close to them. There are also serious effects in adjacent lowlands. Just as steady upward trend of the Keeling Curve of carbon dioxide concentrations is closely watched, so should be its apparent reflection: the glacier mass balance curve, shown each year in the State of the Climate report for the world to see.

This year’s’ report and all previous reports are available for free download online.

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The glaciers win in “Snowpiercer”, but at what cost?

Humanity struggles to stay warm in a train speeding around a frozen Earth in "Snowpiercer". (© 2013 - RADiUS/TWC)
Humanity struggles to stay warm in a train speeding around a frozen Earth in “Snowpiercer”. (© 2013 – RADiUS/TWC)

Remember when Godzilla used to be scary?

Climate change horror seems to be the new go-to disaster for Hollywood films as of late. Unlike giant floods, tornados or even Godzilla, the world freezing over affects everyone at once. There might be an escape from a giant atomic lizard, but when the temperatures change, there’s nothing we can do as a species but adapt.

That adaptation comes in the form of a speeding, circumnavigating train in the new movie Snowpiercer. The exposition in the opening minutes of the movie sets up the scenario: to counteract warming global temperatures, scientists in the present day developed a chemical that will cool the earth when released into the atmosphere. It worked a little too well.

What’s left of humanity is stuffed into a train, divided so neatly into class sections it would make a political science sophomore blush. The poor are crammed into industrialized bunk beds in the tail section while the rich at the front of the train enjoy saunas, sushi and never-ending raves. After spending 17 years in the squalid back of the train eating gelatinous black protein blocks, Curtis, the film’s lead (Captain America‘s Chris Evans), reluctantly leads an uprising to take over the engine.

What’s interesting about Snowpiercer isn’t so much the setting but that climate change horror seemed to be playing a larger role in movies right now. As New Yorker film critic David Denby wrote about the Snowpiercer, “The current designers of awe, in Hollywood and elsewhere, have gone back to the Apocalypse. They’ve created what might be called the Seven Horsemen of the Multiplex: aliens, pandemics, floods, ice, comets and other interplanetary flotsam, nuclear war, and zombies.”

That fourth one, ice, popped up in last year’s The Colony, which imagines humanity living underground after the world freezes over once climate-changing weather machines break down. In both films, the fear seems to come from geoenginnering gone wrong as much as it does from a permanent Ice Age. (In some sense, this is also what the mega-hit Frozen is about.)

http://www.cinetirol.com/en/home/snowpiercer-in-tirol-1664477.html
On location at the Hintertux glacier in Austria. (from left) TJ Park (Producer), Sung Ho Nam (Production Manager), Dooho Choi (Co-Producer), Alex Hong (DoP), Thomas Fuchs (Cine Tirol), Bong Joon-Ho (Director), Robert Bernacchi (Co-Producer). (Cine Tirol Film Commission)

In an odd way, Snowpiercer highlights the seriousness of glacial retreat; only a cosmically huge event is capable of bringing them back. One scene in the movie features a shot of the Hintertux glacier in the Tyrolean Alps of Austria. Though the movie takes place in 2031, the glacier will almost certainly be visibly smaller by time that year actually rolls around.

Over Independence Day weekend, Snowpiercer only took in a little over a million dollars at the box office. In South Korea, where it was co-produced, the movie made nearly $60 million, setting a new record in that country. This was the first English-language production for Snowpiercer‘s director, Joon-ho Bong, whose monster movie The Host achieved popularity in the U.S. when it was released in 2006.

Whether the most expensive Korean movie ever made finds popularity here in America (which accounts for only 2 percent of worldwide box office receipts so far), remains to be seen. Audiences may instead choose to find comfort this summer in a much more comforting disaster from the east: Godzilla.

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