The effects of deglaciation are a global problem. A billion people around the world rely on meltwater from glaciers and there is an ever increasing threat of devastating flooding caused by glacier ice dams melting and bursting. Politically, melting glaciers in the Alps means European borders will be redrawn and with the summits of Kilimanjaro and Mount Kenya melting at an alarming rate, it is estimated that within the next 15 years Africa will have lost all glaciation.
Highly sensitive to fluctuations in climate, glaciers are vital for documenting the effect of human activity on the rate of global environmental change. Project Pressure, a charity founded in 2008 by the photographer Klaus Thymann, aims to document, archive and publicise deglaciation through collaborations with prominent visual artists. The contributions from celebrated photographers such as Corey Arnold, Scott Conarroe and Simon Norfolk, and artists like Adam Broomberg, Oliver Chanarin and Noémie Goudal, not only help to raise awareness of the issue but function as a vital document, supporting the efforts of scientific institutions such as NASA in monitoring receding glaciation.
Ahead of the opening of their latest exhibition – an outdoors installation on the Schleimünde Pilot Island in Germany – Project Pressure shares with Avaunt some of the most poignant images from their archive.
Helheim and Fenris Glaciers, Greenland – Keld Milthers (1933) and Helheim and Fenris Glaciers, Greenland – Klaus Thymann (2012)
Klaus Thymann, director of Project Pressure, went to east Greenland in 2012 to replicate Keld Milthers’ historic aerial photographs. Thymann planned the expedition to document the glaciers at the same time of year as Milthers’ images, to get a direct comparison and avoid snow cover.
Milthers’ photographs were originally used to map the area before they were archived in Denmark and forgotten. On their rediscovery, glaciologists were able to use the comparative data to compile temperature spikes in the 1930s and 2000s that saw variations in both tidewater and inland ice forms. Use of these archival images is essential, owing to the sparsity of land measurements of glaciers over the past century.
Temperatures in Greenland are now at the highest since 1895, when records started, and fluctuations in the wider Greenland ice sheet prove that repeat comparisons and data recording are necessary to measure the effects of climate change on the frozen environment.
Mount Baker, USA – Peter Funch (2014)
Mount Baker, located in Washington, USA, is unique in that the effects of climate change are evident from the accumulation of over a century of photographic documentation in tourist memorabilia. Following in the footsteps of American photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams, Funch’s replication of postcards and archival photography provide a decisive juxtaposition with these historical images, building a timeline that demonstrates the visible recession of the glacier over the past century.
Lewis Glacier, Kenya – Simon Norfolk (2014)
Simon Norfolk used historical maps and GPS to delineate with petrol the retreat of the Lewis Glacier, which was then set on fire, evoking the magma that formed Mount Kenya, a 6000 metre-high extinct volcano, and poignantly referencing the human activity responsible for rapid global warming.
Qôrqup Glacier, Greenland – Mariele Neudecker (2015)
Narsarsuaq in southern Greenland is a dramatic example of a tidewater glacier, where the ice meets the ocean. It is also an alarming demonstration of the devastating affects climate change can have; the Greenland ice sheet has been losing mass since the early 1990s at rates that seem to be progressively increasing. Multidisciplinary artist Mariele Neudecker travelled to the area to document the glaciers and create a sculptural response to her experience.
Esmarkbreen, Norway – Corey Arnold (2013)
Corey Arnold is a photographer and commercial fisherman. His experience working with wildlife and in the open environment leant itself to his 2013 expedition to the remote Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. The melting of glacial ice has been documented in the Hornsund fjord since 1899 and this series was made to provide a contemporary comparative record. Over a three week period, Arnold visited several different glaciers in the surrounding area, capturing photographs and GPS data.
Speke Glacier, Uganda – Klaus Thymann (2012)
On the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the Rwenzori Mountains, also referred to as ‘The Mountains of the Moon’. This UNESCO-listed national park is home to six peaks above 4600 metres and is the highest source of the Nile. Barely explored until the turn of the 20th century, it is estimated the glaciers will completely disappear within the next 15 years.
In 1906, there were 43 glaciers. Now only half remain with a total area of less than one square kilometre. The mountains are also home to 177 species of bird and mammals and an abundance of unusual flora as the tropical rains, high altitude and untouched landscape create conditions that encourages unique species to thrive. Thymann, using a route that had lain unused for decades after Congolese insurgents closed the park, discovered glaciers that were previously thought to have vanished.
Du Baoumet Glacier, France – Scott Conarroe (2015)
Scott Conarroe’s ongoing project Frontière, Frontiera, Grenze, examines the system of movable boundaries devised by nations with Alpine borders as a response to glacial melt. As climate change decimates the glacial boundaries between these countries, each border will have to eventually be redrawn. Currently they employ a concept of floating boundaries, which will only be finalised when the geography stabilises. Conarroe’s contribution to Project Pressure is to focus on filling gaps in the project data and developing an archival timeline that records these transient landscapes.
Mount Illimani, Bolivia – Klaus Thymann (2013)
Nestled within the Cordillera Real Range of Bolivia is La Paz, the world’s highest capital city at 3640 metres above sea level. The city, with a backdrop of peaks above 5000 metres, including the highest, Illimani, is sustained by glacial meltwater. As the glaciers recede, the landlocked country is losing a vital resource that is not only a source of drinking water but used for forestry and agriculture, the livelihood of indigenous communities and hydroelectric power.
The Project Pressure installation on Schleimünde Pilot Island opened last year with a free talk by the charity’s director, Klaus Thymann.