These haunting photos capture ground zero of the climate crisis

By Jesus Diaz

A new photo series by German photographer Tom Hegen captures the stunning beauty of Greenland from the air. But the awe quickly turns to horror, when you realize the photographs show the Arctic melting before our eyes.

One of the leading causes of sea level rise is the melting of ice from glaciers and ice sheets. The Greenland ice sheet contains enough water to raise global sea levels by more than 22 feet. As the world gets hotter, the ice will keep melting, and it has the potential to wipe out coastal cities all around the world–and submerge entire island countries under the water.

[Photo: Tom Hegen]

Hegen decided to depict Greenland because the Arctic is the fastest warming place on this planet. “This series is more than just a photo project,” he says. “It should help to put focus to one of the biggest challenges we globally face these days.”

He used an helicopter to photograph the ice from above. The ice doesn’t appear as a single sheet. Instead, as Hegen says, “it’s more like Swiss cheese, covered with thousands of seasonal rivers and lakes on the surface through which meltwater is able to flow over the ice, enter into the ice and then flowing downstream into the ocean.” All those beautiful patterns, in other words, are visual proof of the climate crisis.

Losing this ice also makes Earth warmer. The pure white of the ice sheet surface reflects the sun’s energy in what is scientifically known as the albedo effect. As the ice melts, the white goes away, attracting more sun radiation, which raises temperatures, and causes more ice melting. It’s a cycle that is extremely hard to break.

It’s a scary time we are living in. Hegen’s photos call to mind something Buzz Aldrin said when he walked for the first time on the surface of the Moon: These show magnificent disaster–and soon to be desolation if we don’t do anything about it.

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