The Vatnajökull is a gigantic icecap—the largest mass of ice in Europe, by far— coating a series of volcanoes in southeast Iceland. The tallest mountain in Iceland, Oraefajökull (6,952 feet high, rising almost straight out of the ocean), pokes through the icecap. On the Vatnajökull’s eastern flank is a huge outlet glacier called the Breidamerkurjökull. It has steadily retreated since the 1920’s. As it pulls back, an immense tidewater lagoon called Jökulsarlon has formed (yep, you guessed it, “Jökulsarlon” means glacier lagoon).
Icebergs float across the lagoon and plunge into the ocean surf. The surf smashes the bergs into smaller and smaller pieces. Every 12 hours, when high tide returns, it deposits on the beach an assortment of incredible-looking natural artworks I call “ice diamonds.” They sit there for only a few hours—each one an absolutely unique sculpture born of ice, weather, water, surf and time—until the tide comes back in again. Then the ice melts, drop by drop, into the waters of the North Atlantic and the ice diamonds disappear.
Making portraits of these precious, soon-to-be-vanished sculptures has been a central part of my EIS creative quest. I thought I had already photographed every conceivable form of ice diamond, until Emily found one. Her look challenges us with the same question people will someday be asking as they look back at the early 21st century: what were you doing, what were you thinking of, when you knew climate change was happening?
My answer has been the Extreme Ice Survey. We saw that climate change as it was happening. We understood it. We paid attention. And we put a thousand percent into communicating what we saw to the rest of the world.