Glaciers burst out of the landscape, snaking between peaks, carving away the dense mountains around. The snowy white surface extends as far as the eye can see, the new layers of snow putting pressure on the cold mass below which compacts it and forms dense ice. The many metres of ice are extremely heavy – often the sheer weight causes such high pressure that the glacier's underbelly melts and the frozen mass flows like a solid river over the rocky bed below. There are many mechanisms which enable glaciers to advance across the landscape, all of which contribute to the yearly flux as the ice creeps forward with increased snow mass and then marginally burrows back into the valley in drier months. The long term expansion and contraction of glaciers worldwide, the slow breathing in and out over years, acts as our global thermometer and climatic indicator – their existence tightly married to many climatic systems, all dangerously reliant on each other.
It is their delicate but dynamic nature that has put them at the centre of climate science research for the last few decades. In 2009 it was found that 90% of global glaciers are in long-term retreat. It is undeniable that the climate is changing and glaciers make the change very lucid.
Project Pressure, started by London-based photographer Klaus Thymann, aims to create the world's first comprehensive crowd-sourced glacier atlas. The project uses the magical intrigue of these indicators to inspire the public to respect nature whilst also providing scientific documentation. Thymann explains, "Project Pressure was set up in conjunction with the scientific community, we had a long dialogue with the World Glacier Monitoring Service, NASA and the National Snow and Ice Data Centre in Colorado, we asked how can we make a project that is useful to science? It turned out they really wanted comparative images of glaciers."
The project is a perfect resonance of scientific endeavour and inspiring a global network to form around climate change issues. Thymann expands, "we aim to have different artists' views on glaciers and how they have changed, and use the glaciers as a metaphor for climate change." Every image added to their open source directory is accompanied with exact co-ordinates and direction, so that anyone can replicate that image and add it to the imagery portal when it goes online in 2015. In this way Project Pressure provides an ever-expanding catalogue of glaciers, their every move documented so that anyone can witness glacial growth and decay.
The strength of the project lies in the network of people it is amassing, all aligned around the acutely beautiful imagery of glacial demise. As the community of people who care about these fragile places grows, the project continues to evolve. Multiple trips are planned for later this year to glaciers in Europe and North America with photographers Peter Funch and Simon Norfolk, and Thymann also hinted he might be documenting Iranian glaciers on another Polaroid Eyewear sponsored expedition later in 2014.
"It's the fragility and powerfulness that intrigues me about glaciers – you can scratch the glacier's surface but you must never forget, it will swallow you whole if you are not careful" — Klaus Thymann
Project Pressure is not alone in providing provoking visuals of the ice as it retreats. The Extreme Ice Survey (EIS) – set up by acclaimed photographer James Balog – has cameras stationed across the earth repeatedly capturing each glacier's status. When pieced together the rolls of images create insane timelapses that show the violent retreat of these frozen outcroppings. Jeff Orlowski, a member of the EIS team, captured their explorations in a mesmerising film, Chasing Ice, which has won multiple awards and brings an uncomfortable allure to the effects of climate change.
Ultimately the fascination with these icy giants is part of a much bigger picture, "Walking on a glacier is a humbling experience, because you know it's bigger than you and it can beat you any time. I think it's important for us to know that nature can beat us whenever it wants to. We have to stop fiddling with nature. We need to just respect nature a little bit." Thymann adds, "I'm not saying this in a hippy way, it's the understanding that nature is fragile but it's also powerful. It's the fragility and powerfulness that intrigues me about glaciers – you can walk around with your clamp-ons and scratch the glacier's surface but you must never forget, it will swallow you whole if you are not careful."
Text by Abby Schlagater