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NOVA: Extreme Ice

Airs Wednesday, December 28, 2011 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV

Above: Meltwater Lake, Greenland Ice Sheet

As the world warms, the threat from rising sea levels poses an alarming potential for disaster. Some models now project a one-meter sea level rise over the next century, which could displace millions of people, from Florida to Bangladesh, and require trillions of dollars’ investment in coastal infrastructure.

Iceberg, Greenland
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Above: Iceberg, Greenland

On Thin Ice In The Bering Sea

In this series of video stories, explore the past and future of the fast-changing Bering Sea region, its culture and people, and the new polar science that is emerging from an expedition on board the Coast Guard cutter Healy.

But these models don’t reflect recent findings that glaciers in Greenland and Antarctica are melting at an ever faster rate. What explains this alarming acceleration, and just how can we figure out what’s happening inside a gigantic wall of ice?

In collaboration with National Geographic, NOVA follows the exploits of acclaimed photojournalist James Balog and a scientific team as they deploy time-lapse cameras in risky, remote locations in the Arctic, Alaska and the Alps.

Their goal is to create a unique photo archive of melting glaciers that could provide a key to understanding their runaway behavior. They’re grappling with blizzards, fickle technology and perilous climbs up craggy precipices to anchor cameras that must withstand sub-zero temperatures and winds up to 170 mph.

In this high-action adventure, "Extreme Ice," NOVA investigates the mystery of the mighty ice sheets that will affect the fate of coastlines around the world.

James Balog rappelling down moulin, Ice Sheet, Greenland.
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Above: James Balog rappelling down moulin, Ice Sheet, Greenland.

Photographing the Big Melt

For more than 30 years, photographer James Balog has been seeking new ways to visualize the natural world. His artistry has been featured in dozens of magazines, from National Geographic to The New Yorker. But his most recent project, the Extreme Ice Survey (EIS), has a scientific goal. It seeks to document an unprecedented melting of the world's glaciers, a phenomenon that many scientists agree is proof of human-caused global warming.

As director of the EIS, Balog considers himself a modern hunter-gatherer, collecting vital information to feed a public hungry for real evidence of climate change. In this audio slide show, let Balog whet your appetite in his own words. — David Levin

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Video

Preview: NOVA: Extreme Ice

Above: Remarkable time-lapse footage by one of the worlds foremost nature photographers reveals massive glaciers and ice sheets splitting apart, collapsing, and disappearing at a rate that has more and more scientists alarmed. "NOVA: Extreme Ice" investigates this latest evidence of a radically warming planet.

Video

The Extreme Ice Survey In Action

Above: The Extreme Ice Survey, founded by photographer James Balog, is documenting glacial change happening right now around the world. With 26 time lapse cameras in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Canada, and Glacier National Park, the Extreme Ice Survey is creating the most comprehensive photographic survey of glacial change. To learn more, please visit http://www.extremeicesurvey.org