Mixing Art with Science


Just a bit ago, James Balog came to Dickinson to receive his Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism. He came to check out all sectors of environmentalism at our college. I was able to spend lots of quality time with Balog– he ate breakfast at my home, the Center for Sustainable Living, came to my work at the Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring, and he stopped by our mosaic class.

During our interactions, I was struck by how eloquent Balog was when talking about nature. When asked about how he felt connected with nature, he talked about how the night connected him with the universe. The sky is deceiving, he said, when the light stops hitting the particles in the atmosphere, you see where we really are. You see that we are actually on a rock, speeding though outer space. You see that we have a small home in a vast universe and we have to protect it. We can’t allow our little space ship to be uninhabitable.


He said several times that there is no one thing that each person should do to combat climate change, we each have our own talents and should use those talents for the cause. Balog is using his artistic skills to raise awareness about increased glacial melting due to climate change. Sometimes, visual evidence can persuade people of the danger in ways charts and figures cannot.

You don’t need to be an economist or environmental expert to make a difference- if everyone used their own talents in slowing climate change, the force would be unstoppable.


Besides the mosaic, what else is occupying my time?


Having already taken global climate change, this semester I am taking chemistry of earth systems and Introduction to Soils with the mosaic. While these courses are not directly related to climate change, they are providing a great balance with the mosaic.

In chemistry of earth systems we are learning about chemical reactions and different techniques to get at compositions of rocks including XRD and XRF analysis (pictures of our machines at right). Geo chem, as we like to call it, is giving me a great background in the chemistry of how the earth works. We are learning about reactions that are fundamental to keeping the planet’s systems in check (i.e. weathering reactions).

Justin and Ben in soils class
Justin and Ben in soils class

Soils class is a very nice complement to geo chem as it is providing a great understanding of clays, soil structure and soil composition. We frequently get to go on field trips (picture left) to see different parts of the valley and learn about how soils are important to our lives. The most relevant part of the course for climate change is my independent research project. I will be studying how soil development begins with deglaciation. You may be wondering how I am going to do this in Carlisle, but the answer is simple, tombstones. I will be dating lichen and developing a growth curve to see how quickly lichen are growing in this environment. The tombstones represent my recently glaciated rock and will allow the analogous study. Picture below shows an environmental that was recently glaciated (Greenland) and is now becoming populated with lichens, which will build to develop soil.

I am looking forward to further engaging in this course work and developing a great understanding of earth systems.

Soil development in Greenland
Soil development in Greenland

On James Balog’s Rose-Walters Lecture

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On the night of September 23rd, famed nature photographer and documentarian James Balog gave the lecture for this year’s Rose-Walters Prize for Global Environmental Activism to a packed auditorium in ATS. However, only the first segment of his presentation was truly a lecture by definition; the second segment was spoken word over a slideshow of his stunning photography stills, an interesting twist and medium for presenting his message of empowerment and determination in the face of a changing climate and a changing world. But, before that, he ran through a presentation (truncated from his normal spiel) that explained what his project, the Extreme Ice Survey, did and is still doing, and showing the fruits of their labor: time-lapse videos of extreme glacial retreat over less than a decade in time, a severe rate of deflation and diminishment in the extremely long geologic time series. It was stunning to see something that had been born, created, crafted and polished over millions of years disappear so quickly during my lifetime and due to human activity. Such a stark visualization of climate change is rare in normal day-to-day life, and yet is extremely important for everyone on this earth to experience and embody.

James Balog

Balog’s photography shows the death of a living, breathing thing. The second part of his presentation encapsulated and revolved around this fact; the free verse poem, written by Balog himself, captured the beauty and life of the glaciers he studied and personified them to an extent that I thought was unique and extremely powerful and moving. It made the run-of-the-mill statistics like “the glaciers in Greenland have receded X miles in X years” that get thrown around in the news and in classes that focus on climate change seem much more personal and powerful; I could visualize the damage, and it made it seem like humanity, as a whole, was the big bully on the playground and was causing deeply-seeded distress and suffering in another living thing. There was no other option for me than to leave the lecture that night, and James’s residency as a whole, asking myself, “what more can I do?”

The Despair of Death


James Balog Presents Ice: COOLER than expected

One of my initial reactions to watching James Balog’s Chasing Ice was that I didn’t know ice could be photographed in such a magical way. My second reaction was holy $#!% this is really happening at such an astonishing rate. This documentary is different than other climate change related films I have seen. Many climate change documentaries are very scientific and factual which doesn’t address the “average” moviegoer. Balog’s documentary is very relatable to the average student, citizen, grandmother, whoever. His film is attractive in the way that it captures incredible visuals in a time lapse of what is happening at this very moment. People tend to only believe what they can see and James Balog is able to express climate change occurring in real time through photographs of melting glaciers.

When Balog met with our class on Tuesday September 23 I felt star struck after such an intimate classroom conversation covering topics about his personal interests, family references, and what he thinks we can contribute to climate change. Later that day, I was in the library and I found myself distracted looking at his photographs on display in our library. Still in awe about how magnificent and lifelike these glaciers were portrayed by James Balog. I definitely have a different perspective about natural landscapes, like glaciers, that are disappearing from out planet, faster than we think.

James Balog successfully used his interest in photography and his passion for a cause, climate change, to spread awareness and activism. I think this is a really important message that shows no matter your background, scientist, politician, activist, or student, we can all contribute in some way to the global issue of climate change. james-balog-web

A Week of James Balog


Sunday: I spent the evening snuggled up in bed watching James Balog’s documentary Chasing Ice  on Netflix. Before watching, my expectation for the documentary was that it was going to be one of those “facts-down-your-throat” documentaries, but I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, the film was highly artistic due to the stunning way the film captured ice.  Equally as gripping was the storyline behind the Extreme Ice Project in which Balog deals with camera issues, family pressures, knee surgeries and life-risking ice photos. The photos powerfully depict the story of the individual glaciers demise and the diagrams interjected into the film highlight why these melted glaciers indicate climate change. These photos that Balog (at times) risked his life to photograph are effective mechanisms of documenting climate change.

James Balog

Monday: James Balog came to my Introduction to Soil’s class where my five classmates and I were able to openly ask him questions.  The class began with my professor, Ben Edwards, a volcanologist, presenting his current research to Baloag. He is researching the interactions between lava and ice which he demonstrated in his youtube video of lava being poured on ice. This captivated Balog due to his love of ice and wanted to learn more.[youtube_sc url=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fcz3vBdI7Nc” title=”Ben%20Edward%27s%20Lava+%20Ice%20Research”]


We then continued to bombard Balog with questions, ranging from: What school did you go to? – Why did you decide to be a photographer? – What job advice can you give us? I wanted to ask him a question of my own so I asked him if he ever took photos of indigenous groups and the changes to their society. He said he focused on glaciers and the people affected by glaciers were outside his realm of expertise. Although, lava and ice don’t exactly fall under the soil class’s syllabus, it was really interesting to spend the class talking with Balog.

James Balog in Introduction to Soil's Course


Tuesday: This time Balog came to a more appropriate class, our sustainability mosaic course. Interestingly enough the questions and conversation were very different from the previous day. Although there were questions about his personal life, the conversation was directed towards climate change and his film.  One overall message that I will remember was when Balog said something along the lines of: he cannot tell us what to do about climate change, but he can encourage each of us to find a voice and way of expressing our concerns. After a group photo and a selfie, we waved Balog good-bye with a lingering awe.

At 7pm, we attended his two- hour lecture that was focused on science and art components. I found the science part highly interesting for he presented interesting figures and evidence concerning climate change. In the art section of the lecture, he used poetry, music and photos he created a voice regarding climate change’s effect on glaciers that had never been done before.


Wednesday – Friday : After his presence at Dickinson College, there was a mull of student discussion about his unique talk and breath-taking documentary.  Whenever I was in the Library, I would get captivated by his glacier photo display and I would convince anyone who would listen to watch Chasing Ice. I was impacted by the multiple meetings with James Balog throughout the week and I was really glad that Dickinson was able to create this opportunity.


James Balog at Dickinson College

ChasingIce filmstill by James Balog Extreme Ice SurveySM

By Elizabeth Plascencia

A still from Chasing Ice
A still from Chasing Ice

I was a senior in high school when I first watched Chasing Ice. Nearly three and a half years later I had the honor of introducing Mr. James Balog for his public lecture at Dickinson College. Combining visual arts and science, Balog has presented the retreating ice of the world as a force to be reckoned with. Combating climate change skeptics with multi-year record proof, Balog is somewhat of a hero to me. Mindfully capturing these beautifully dynamic and fragile masses, he told a story.

In lieu of the Lorax – Mr. Balog speaks for the ice.

James Balog with the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic cohort at Dickinson College
James Balog with the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic cohort at Dickinson College
James Balog's lecture at Dickinson College on September 23, 2014
James Balog’s lecture at Dickinson College on September 23, 2014

Balog’s residency granted me the opportunity to interact through open class discussions and an afternoon student luncheon. Overall this experience has propelled me into the pursuit of finding my voice.

What will my cause be to champion? I speak for change.

Mosaic student Elizabeth Plascencia '16 introducing James Balog
Mosaic student Elizabeth Plascencia ’16 introducing James Balog

[youtube_sc url=”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eIZTMVNBjc4″ title=”Chasing%20Ice%20Official%20Trailer%20″]

As the Ice Leaves, Greenland Becomes Green

Kulusuk, Greenland
Puppies with sled dog mom in Kulusuk, Greenland

This summer I had the opportunity to travel to Greenland with the Earth Science department. We had an incredible trip and got to see a lot of ice. Climate change is readily apparent in the landscape and in speaking with the locals. One man local to the small settlement of Kulusuk told us that the dog sledding season used to last from September until June, now they usually can’t start until late October and are ending in early May, a drastic change for this culture. Even though the season is getting shorter, families still train dogs to sled. This picture shows a mom with two new born pups, there were also more in her litter under her belly.




Tidewater glacier near Kulusuk, Greenland
Tidewater glacier near Kulusuk, Greenland

One our first full day of hiking we were able to see a glacier that has been studied by some Danish scientists for many years, Mittivakkat Glacier. There is a great deal of scientific literature on the subject, some of which can be found here. We were only able to see one small tongue of the glacier shown in the photograph. For more information on this glacier see journal articles here.


Apusiaajik Tidewater Glacier near Kulusk, Greenland
Apusiaajik Tidewater Glacier near Kulusk, Greenland


The most striking glacial feature we saw was an incredible tide water glacier, about 30 minutes from Kulusuk by boat. The Apusiaajik Glacier is retreating. While there is currently no scientific literature on the glacier, locals say that it is just in the past 5 years that the rock in the middle of the photograph above has become exposed. This is consistent with other glacial observation in the region that many “tide water glaciers” no longer reach the ocean.

All photographs taken by Will Kochtitzky, August 2014