• December 11, 2015

The Formidable, Fragile Beauty of Warming Landscapes

Alexa Keefe

Fernando Moleres’s project ‘Melting Landscapes’ reduces the Arctic region’s vast vistas—towering icebergs, massive glaciers, snow-swept ice sheets—to their most minimal elements. The biggest challenge was having enough cloudy, gray days to achieve just the right look.

Icebergs in Disko Bay calved from the Jakobshavn Glacier. The glacier drains a large portion of Greenland’s ice sheet, and its melting could contribute more to sea level rise than any other feature in the Northern Hemisphere, according to NASA’s Earth Observatory.

“I didn’t want to emphasize colors or size,” he says. “My intention was to reduce the context radically to the point it erases any visual reference and creates empty spaces. The whiteness and emptiness work as a symbol of a place that could disappear.”

Fjallsárlón glacier, Iceland. Iceland loses about 11 billion tons of ice per year from its melting glaciers, Moleres says.

From August 2014 to October 2015, Moleres made several trips to Greenland and Iceland to photograph places most vulnerable to the effects of a warming planet. His goal was both to make a statement about climate change and to capture the aesthetic beauty of these monochromatic landscapes, to show the “hardness and, at the same time, the fragility of the Arctic.”

Picture of icebergs in Greenland's Disko Bay
Icebergs, Disko Bay. Increasing temperatures have led to greater numbers of icebergs in summer, as more blocks calve off the main flow of the Jakobshavn Glacier, says Moleres.

The global implications of melting polar ice are often talked about, and the trends remain sobering. By way of scale, the Greenland ice sheet alone is roughly 650,000 square miles (1.7 million square kilometers)—nearly three times the size of Texas—and covers most of Greenland, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC). The NSIDC calculates that if the ice sheet were to melt away completely, the sea level would rise about 20 feet (6 meters). The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that the Greenland ice sheet has been shrinking over the past two decades. Global sea levels are likely to continue rising this century and beyond.

(For more on rising sea levels, see this article from National Geographic magazine.)

Icebergs, Disko Bay, Greenland

Each of the landscapes Moleres photographed—the Jakobshavn Glacier and its calved icebergs in Greenland’s Disko Bay, Fjallsárlón glacier in Iceland—bears its own distinct features, put into relief by Moreles’s consistent style. The hardest landscapes to access were in Greenland, he says. Wearing three layers of clothing in subzero temperatures—which he said wasn’t so bad—Moleres went out with local fishermen and on ferry boats to photograph the Jakobshavn Glacier and its ice fjord from the vantage point of the sea. And, at one point, he had stopped to take a picture while traveling over the ice by dogsled with a hunter when the dogs broke free and left them stranded.

Sled dogs wait in the snow for their next trip or meal. “There are about a thousand dogs in Ilulissat, but that is only about a third of the number that there were in 1980,” says Moleres. “Climate change has made the sea ice too thin for safe travel, and the increasing use of snowmobiles means dogs are kept more for competitions than essential travel.”

Despite logistical challenges, the silence and beauty of his surroundings drew him in. He also enjoyed the sense of scale—feeling small in comparison to his monolithic subjects, surrounded by the natural world.

Fjallsárlón glacier, Iceland

Asked what story he wanted to tell with these images, he sums it up like this: “There’s some vulnerability in the vital relationship between men and his natural surroundings. Human beings are behind climate change, the ones that provoked a rise in the planet’s temperature. Stopping this process of global warming makes us all responsible in different levels. It demands a deep change of mind and responsible use of energy sources.”

View more of Fernando Moleres’s work on his website.

There are 7 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Allen Stewart
    December 27, 2015

    Regardless of what the true genesis of climate change is, the genie is out of the bottle. I agree with Bjorn Lomborg that a far more effective use of resources would be to help affected people cope with any deleterious effects rather than a quixotic quest to reverse the effects. Man has always adapted – man will adapt again. The doomsday prognostications seem to assume stasis is the normal state of affairs, when we live on a dynamic planet that has repeatedly been both hotter and colder than it is now.

  2. Tom McEwan
    December 27, 2015

    If man’s activities are significant in climate change, it has to be by the widespread clearance of forests across the world. Man’s pollution is miniscule compared with the output of volcanoes and other natural emissions.

  3. karenza t. wall
    December 15, 2015

    how anybody can explain/excuse away what is happening to our planet, despite all evidence to the contrary, escapes me. completely. hopefully these people do not have children.

  4. Robert Haile MD
    December 15, 2015

    Denial and escapism are excuses to maintain destructive lifestyles. Sure the permafrost has melted before over millennia last occurring greater than 400,000 years ago, and, although CO2 levels have fluctuated from 100-260 ppm naturally, they have not exceeded 300 let alone 400 ppm. We must also note that the changes in the last 150 years are greater than the average 1,000,000 years and the long term trend of the earth has been cooling not heating. That said Jewel, the photos are beautiful and stark.

  5. Malter Witty
    December 14, 2015

    In response to Jewels cop-out comment, even if it’s not entirely due to man’s activity, shouldn’t we agree to do whatever we can to minimize our contribution? It’s as if simply posing the possibility that it might not be ENTIRELY man’s fault means mankind should carry on as if everything is fine. Truly a cop out and cowardly position.

  6. Anthony
    December 14, 2015

    Maybe so Jewel, but it extremely unlikely. The overwhelming evidence suggests that it is indeed caused by humanity. This kind of climate change denial doesn’t help us face up to the reality of the damage we are doing.

  7. Jewel
    December 13, 2015

    Global warming may very well be a natural process continuing from ice age till now. May not be due to our reckless ways after all …

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