George Philip LeBourdais in The Point:

ScreenHunter_2623 Mar. 11 19.59The diminutive iceberg was an afterthought by the time it broke apart. I was riding a soft inflatable boat towards one of the great glaciers of Spitsbergen, an island located north of Norway and east of Greenland. Spitsbergen is part of the remote archipelago of Svalbard, deep within the Arctic Circle and about halfway between mainland Europe and the North Pole. A tall ship had carried me there along with a troop of photographers and writers and scientists for an improbable artist residency. We stared at the glacier’s calving face in Fuglefjord, where it stops gouging the earth and splinters into the sea. We were trying to catch one of those awesome, humbling instances when ice splits like marble in a quarry and crashes into the water. Momentary respects had been paid to a distinctive but small iceberg (no bigger than a stout Victorian house in San Francisco) but we puttered past en route to the glacier itself—where we thought the action was.

We shuddered when the iceberg broke at our backs. Turning in unison with my shipmates, I felt the air change. It had become so fresh it was almost repellent, as though an ancient sepulcher had cracked open to release a saturated gush of oxygen. Dark, clear ice below the berg’s surface began to rotate upwards, cranking horologically into its new position. After a collective gasp, we hushed and watched.

Once a land on the margins, the Arctic has become a global center of attention for climatologists, environmental activists and tourists. The rhetoric of the sublime is no longer required to imagine the epochal changes that happen there; we can watch the footage ourselves. Time-lapse videography has made the retreat of the world’s glaciers dramatically clear. James Balog, photographer for the award-winning 2014 documentary Chasing Ice and director of the Extreme Ice Survey, calls ice “the canary in the global coal mine … the place where we can see and touch and feel climate change.”

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