In this Video of the Week, watch an aerial view of the flow line at the Jakobshavn Glacier, in Ilulissat, Greenland. The video was posted on Twitter by Santiago de la Peña of Ohio State University’s Byrd Polar and Climate Research Center.
“This behemoth shreds into the ocean the equivalent of San Francisco’s water consumption,” he said.
Jakobshavn glacier is well known for likely producing the iceberg that sunk the Titanic.
It is also a very dynamic glacier. In the early 2000s, Jakobshavn was one of the fastest-flowing glaciers in the world, losing up to 20 meters in height each year. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2010, Jakobshavn alone contributed almost 1 millimeter to global sea level rise. In more recent years, however, Jakobshavn is actually growing again, now gaining about 20 meters in height per year.
Talented artists and architects competed for the honor of designing the new Icefjord Centre in Ilulissat, Greenland. The Danish architectural group Dorte Mandrup Arkitekter presented an elegantly curving building design which won the competition. However, another one of the finalists, the entry by Studio Other Spaces, founded by artist Olafur Eliasson and architect Sebastian Behmann, was nothing short of spectacular itself.
Studio Other Spaces says, “The Ilulissat Icefjord Park uses the melting of ice to shape space. Studio Other Spaces has created a unique design strategy where ice is at once the formwork of a concrete structure and the focal point of the resulting space. For the Ilulissat Icefjord Park, Studio Other Spaces uses naturally calved icebergs harvested directly from the nearby ice fjord to create an exhibition building, called the Ice Void, which harbours in its walls the memory of the ice that was used to shape it. Together with the Ice Void, and linked to it outdoors by a 360-degree path, the Sun Cone building defines the Icefjord Park. The light glass structure of the Sun Cone positions the visitor centre directly in the landscape and offers guests a spectacular panoramic view of the surroundings and the Arctic sun. The park helps make the overwhelming experience of visiting the ice fjord comprehensible – providing visitors with a scale for contemplating and relating to the awe-inspiring ice fjord.”
In 2004, 4000 square kilometers of the Ilulissat Icefjord was declared a Word Heritage site because of its unique geology and natural beauty.
Since 1972, UNESCO has been protecting more than 1,000 World Heritage sites in 163 different countries, with the goal of maintaining them for the benefit of future generations, and for all humankind. Most of these sites are iconic tourist destinations, ranging from natural wonders such as Yellowstone National Park, scenic wild landscapes such as the Galapagos Islands, to cultural icons, such as Stonehenge. Many are glaciers and glacial mountain ranges.
But climate change impacts, such as sea level rise, higher temperatures, habitat shifts, and more frequent and extreme weather events, threaten to quickly and permanently degrade and destroy both the natural beauty and cultural value of these sites. Moreover, climate change exacerbates the effects of other processes which endanger these sites, such as urbanization, pollution, natural resource extraction and, increasingly, poorly managed tourism.
The report argues that damaging what it calls the “outstanding universal value” of World Heritage sites harms not only the site itself, but also the local communities and economies that depend on these sites for tourism.
UNESCO and its World Heritage program were both created in a spirit of internationalism. UNESCO was formed following World War II, and in 1972, it created the World Heritage Centre to “encourage international cooperation in the conservation of our world’s cultural and natural heritage.” Now, climate change threatens these universally loved sites, as well as their surrounding local communities.
The report details 12 full case studies and 18 briefer “sketches” of the climate change vulnerability of 31 World Heritage properties in 29 countries. Four include glacier landmarks.
Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal
Sagarmatha National Park encompasses the highest point on earth: the peak of Mount Everest. The National Park is listed as a World Heritage site for the abundant natural beauty of its mountains, glaciers, and valleys, and for the cultural significance of local Sherpa culture. One third of the people on Earth depend on glacial melt water from the Himalayas, including water from Sagarmatha. However, glacial retreat caused by rising temperatures are threatening the reliability of Sagarmatha’s water source. Glacier loss in the region also threatens to cause catastrophic landslides, glacial lake outbreak floods (GLOFs), and erosion.
Golden Mountains of Altai, Russian Federation
The Altai Mountains are listed as a World Heritage site for their biodiversity and for the region’s cultural and archaeological traditions. The mountains hold the frozen tombs of the ancient Scythian people, who were documented by ancient historian Herodotus (484-425 BC). Climate change and rising temperatures threaten both threatens the tombs’ preservation, which are remarkably protected by permafrost, and the Altai mountain glaciers.
Huascarán National Park, Peru
Huascarán National Park rests in Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world’s tropics, and the Park encases Huascarán: the highest peak in Peru. The Park contains incredibly diverse flora and fauna and 660 glaciers, making it a popular tourist destination. The famous Pastoruri Glacier is one of the park’s main attraction, but it may disappear altogether within the next few decades. Since the 1930s, the Park’s glaciers have shrunk by 30 per cent. This poses concerns about water availability for many local communities, as well as for hydropower.
Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland, Denmark
The Icefjord serves as a major summer tourist destination, where visitors travel to the enormous Sermeq Kujalleq Glacier, which hangs off of the Disko Bay. In the summer, visitors can hear and see the ice cracking and caving into the bay. Increased temperatures have increased the amount of seasonal ice caving. The glacier is listed as a World Heritage site for its contribution to improving the scientific understanding of glaciology, for its global importance as a geological feature, and for its wild and scenic landscape.
The report stresses the importance of fulfilling the Paris Agreement, which was adopted in December of 2015. The report’s foreword states that achieving the Agreement’s goal of keeping global average temperature rise to well below 2°C is “vital for the future of World Heritage.” It contains as well a number of other specific recommendations which link many stakeholders–local communities, indigenous peoples, policy-makers, tourism agencies, intergovernmental organization and the World Heritage Convention–to monitor, manage and protect these areas.
In addition to detailing the climate vulnerability of World Heritage sites, the report also details a “clear and achievable” mitigation response. The paper recommends preserving and managing forest and coastal habitats, using World Heritage sites as “learning laboratories” to study resiliency and mitigation management strategies, and increasing visitors’ understanding of and appreciation for World Heritage sites, as well as how climate change affects them.
The report also suggests that in a changing climate, tourism can play a positive role in securing the future of many World Heritage sites by providing an economic incentive to invest in mitigation and adaptation strategies. In this light, glaciers may serve as an important rallying point for climate change mitigation. Their natural beauty and cultural value can inspire people at the local, national, and international level to take action.
Traces of Change, a solo exhibition by the painter and photographer Diane Burko, features a number of images of the cryosphere. It is currently installed at the Cindy Lisica Gallery in Houston, and will remain open until April 16. Burko’s sustained engagement with geological phenomena on many scales has led her to travel to glaciers and ice sheets in the Arctic and Antarctica, where she observes and records with cameras and sketchpads from the air and from the ground. GlacierHub has presented two projects of hers from 2014, Politics of Snow and Polar Investigations, and conducted an interview last year on her reflections on the relations of art, science and public life.
This exhibition features recent large-scale photographs, paintings, and photo-based works, many of them drawing on collaborations with glaciologists. The Deep Time project, included in this exhibition, draws on the artist’s January 2015 travels to the Patagonian ice field in Argentina. These pieces contrast objects—often quite different ones–from the remote past and from the immediate present, and invite viewers to recognize both the great age of our world and the presence of forces operating on it at the current moment. This exhibition also presents the Elegy Series with printed works that are enlargements of details from her paintings, and that bear a striking resemblance to aerial views of glacial landscapes. In this way, these works establish connections between the surface of a painting and the surface of a planet. These works serve as elegies through their sustained reflections and their laments for locations threatened by climate change, but they are not simply works that mourn: rather, they suggest the urgency of attentiveness to the world, and the potential of creative work to transform our awareness into action.
GlacierHub: The title of your show is “Traces of Change.” This could mean that the images show traces of change, or that the images themselves are traces of change. Do you lean towards one meaning or the other–or towards both?
Diane Burko: I wanted “traces” to stand for the idea of recording, marking and indicating change, as in the rapid melting of glaciers. The lead piece in the show that speaks to this is the Jakobshavn-Ilulissat Quartet, which actually includes one panel (the third) which quotes the recessional maps used by glaciologists to indicate such change over time. The one I referenced for my painting traced change from 1850 to 2012.
GH: A number of your images show paint that has dried and cracked, and that look like crevasse-filled glaciers photographed from the air. What associations do you see between paint and ice?
DB: The pieces you are referring to are part of a current series called “Elegies.” My intention is to provoke an uneasy visual tension in response to these fictional images, where the viewer struggles to make sense of the material as if they are actually seeing photographs of aerial views of melting glaciers.
I found a painting material which indeed mimics patterns reminiscent of the cracking of ice revealed in aerial images of polar seas, glaciers, and ice fields. I’m particularly pleased with this development because it joins both my practices, painting and photography, in a unique combination.
GH: Some of the images in your show are pairs–two images, both the same size, placed side by side. Other images are hung separately, though there are other images of the same size. How do these two approaches work together?
DB: The paired images you are referring to are part of a series of another recent project called “Deep Time.” All ten pairs, based on a 2015 expedition to Argentina’s Patagonian Ice field, are a metaphoric exploration contextualizing geologic time. The past and present are contrasted in these large scale images. The left represents the history of evolutionary planet memory, where change happens over millions of years. The right conveys the idea of “now,” where melting glaciers threaten devastating change. The right hand images taken on top of Patagonia’s Viedma glacier are emblematic of all the melting glaciers I witnessed in the Polar Regions.
I tend to work in series, pursuing an idea to its conclusion. That’s why you see a number of same-sized images displayed together. They are usually clustered around the same concept.
I’m thrilled that his exhibition presented both my practices with the Quartet and four images from my Landsat series representing painting, along with two of my most recent photography projects, Deep Time and the Elegy Series.
GH: Some of your images include maps that show the location of the objects they depict, and some include the sites in their titles. Others lack these identifiers. How do you see these as complementing each other?
DB:My work is about climate change. My goal is to communicate the urgent threat it poses to our environment. I endeavor to do this through the knowledge I’ve gained studying geology, collaborating with scientists, and bearing witness in the polar regions. I translate all this experience into my language as a painter utilizing various visual devices. Sometimes I introduce a map into painting as a visual prompt, like this one of Greenland which informs but also connects aesthetically with the painting in terms of color, etc.
I always use titles that acknowledge the original source of the image, which can include the date an image was taken and the agency or individual who provided the data. In my Landsat series (four of which are included in the exhibition), each tile identifies the particular agency (usually NASA) and what you are seeing.
GH: You have shown your work about ice in a number of cities. What has been your experience showing them in Houston, with its warm climate, coastal location, and vulnerability to hurricanes?
DB: I do hope the audience in Houston does make the connection you have! That is one of the reasons I enjoy exhibiting all over the country— and having the chance to speak to the viewers. I understand from my gallerist Cindy Lisica that people were indeed reacting not only to the art but the message it conveyed. She told me how one patron was showing her friends the recessional lines and explaining what they actually meant.