Moving at a glacial pace once meant slow.
But as Adam LeWinter, a McCandless native who helped capture dramatic time-lapse photos of the world's rapidly retreating ice floes in the new documentary "Chasing Ice" can attest, that's no longer the case.
The film, opening today at Regent Square Theater, shows how man-made global warming has sped up the movement and melting of glaciers in Greenland, Iceland, Alaska, Montana and Canada, and is based on the "Extreme Ice Survey," a project started by nature photographer James Balog in 2007 to produce a detailed multiyear photographic record of the world's shrinking glacial landscapes.
The idea for the survey was to produce a visual record of climate change impacts on dozens of the world's glaciers through photographs taken hourly, every day, for five years. Those photos, assembled in video form, illustrate changes to the glaciers' size related to changes in regional temperature, precipitation and melt rates.
"What I knew before was minimal, but now I've met the scientists, and I've seen the glaciers changing year to year," said Mr. LeWinter, 29, the field coordinator for the EIS project. "It's alarming what we're seeing, what we're documenting. Comparing what was there in the past, it's a pretty grim picture."
Mr. LeWinter, a graduate of North Allegheny High School, played a major role in the fabrication and redesign of the time-lapse camera systems used, and he also worked at the 25 remote locations to install, maintain and repair the equipment.
His unique skill set -- he began ski racing at Seven Springs when he was 5 years old, was a climbing instructor and an ice climber. He has an undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering -- a big asset in doing the project work, which often occurred in extreme wind and cold.
Mr. LeWinter, who has an unexpected on-screen role in the film, said his most challenging work occurred on a 17-day encampment at the Ilulissat Glacier in Greenland, where he and a co-worker were sent by Mr. Balog in hopes of recording a "calving" event -- that's when chunks break off of the foot of the glacier and fall into the sea. The Ilulissat Glacier is the probable source of the iceberg that sunk the Titanic oceanliner in 1914.
"We had high winds when we were up on that 'glacier watch' with gusts up to 90 miles per hour for two days," he said. "Those were hurricane force and we were exposed on this big granite bluff, and it was very cold. We had to anchor our tents with rocks."
When the "calving" occurred and a 3,000-foot-thick chunk of ice the size of lower Manhattan island broke off, it was worth it, Mr. LeWinter said.
"It was on the scale of seeing a volcano erupt. That calving event went on for 75 minutes, and there were pieces of ice the size of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park," he said. "We were like little kids, excited to see it actually happening and to see a calving much larger than anyone else has seen. But it was also kind of sobering because of the implications of what we were seeing."
Although the debate about man-made climate change has polarized the American populace and paralyzed its politicians, there is consensus among scientists that it is happening and the glacial photographic records collected through the Extreme Ice Survey provide further confirmation, Mr. LeWinter said.
He said that the EIS cameras remain in the field, actively shooting additional photos, and a DVD release planned for this summer will include additional time-lapse sequences.
Adam LeWinter will attend the 8 p.m. screenings today and Saturday and answer questions after the show.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.