Ice is the most dynamic and arguably the most important element on planet earth. On a broad scale, it is the keeper of time and history absorbed into its layers–thousands of years old. It is the regulator of climate and thermal movement across the globe. Ice can crumble mountains and carve deep fjords, but also floats in the air. Sea ice acts as the soil for polar seas creating vast inverted gardens so life can flourish and simultaneously as platforms for megafauna to hunt from.
To put it lightly, I have an ice obsession. From bergs to glaciers to waterfalls–I have thousands of images of ice. Working as a polar photo guide and adventure photographer does not help with my addiction. On my first trip to Antarctica, I remember one of the seasoned expedition team members saying that you never get sick of ice-and no matter how many frames I’ve clicked of icebergs, a new angle or change of light reveals new beauty. Then ‘click’-another ice photo. Thank God for digital photography!
One of the most endearing characteristics of ice is its ability to morph from one form to another. Beginning as an icecap – flat and docile, its sheer mass forcing it towards the sea becomes fractured into crevasses and seracs tumbling down mountainsides. The ice at the bottom of the glacier turns translucent from billions of tons of pressure squeezing out minute air bubbles. When pieces like this eventually reach the sea, they are named growlers for the gut-wrenching sound they make as they threaten to tear oak planks from ribs as they grind their way down the sides of passing ships. Their extreme density conceals them just below the water’s surface, camouflaged as deep ocean blue or black. This is just one example of thousands of incredible shapeshifting acts.
It’s not all hulking mass and destructive power though. Some of nature’s most beautiful and delicate structures are made of ice. Upper atmospheric particles dance in the air refracting the light of the sun or the moon into eerie circles and bows. Hoar frost delicately grows from moisture sucked from snow on frigid nights. Each feathery tip inching outwards, silently waiting for even a slight breeze to shatter its pristine form.
Ice can also bend light. When photons of light hit aerated ice, the spectrum of light bounces around in this loose structure and is sent back at us in the full spectrum–white. But when ice is purer with less air, the long waves on the red spectrum are absorbed and only the blue (and in smaller amounts green and violet) short wave light particles are reflected, which is making the ice appear blue to the human eye. The deeper you peer into a crevasse, the more red light is absorbed and a deeper blue is created making the ice appear to be glowing from the inside.
As spectacular as ice is in its sheer force, adaptability, and shape-shifting characteristics, it’s the artistic side that really sets ice apart for me. The myriad shapes, textures, densities, and colors have a magical quality in an infinite number of forms that captivate me for hours at a time. Sculpted from natural forces like wind, water, cold, and heat, a single molecule can live many lives–reincarnated from crystals to glaciers to icebergs and back again. Each is unique and perfect.