American installation artist Spencer Tunick’s latest mass nudist shoot saw 600 people strip naked in 10C temperatures on a Swiss glacier on the weekend. The photographic shoot was organised by Greenpeace as part of a publicity campaign to expose the impact of climate change. The naked 600 volunteers posed on Switzerland's shrinking Aletsch Glacier, the largest in the Alps. Alpine glaciers have lost about one-third of their length and half their volume over the past 150 years while The Aletsch has retreated by 115 metres in the last two years.
Organisers Greenpeace say that if global warming continues at its current rate, most glaciers in Switzerland will completely disappear by 2080, leaving nothing but valleys and slopes strewn with rock debris. They described the protest shoot as a cry for help against a planetary emergency and a “chilling message from wear nothing activists to do nothing politicians”.
Greenpeace also quoted the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who say the world only has eight years remaining to take the urgent action needed to curb catastrophic climate change. The IPCC’s latest report (pdf) on climate change has presented further evidence that global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have increased by 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004 and will continue to grow over the next few decades.
The world’s glaciers are particularly sensitive to climate change and are therefore valuable for climate research. Scientist drill and extract ice cores from glaciers to see a long-term climate record. These cores are continuous records providing information regarding past climate. Scientists analyse core components, particularly trapped air bubbles, which reveal important information about past atmospheric composition, temperature variations, and types of vegetation. Because glaciers preserve bits of atmosphere from thousands of years ago in these air bubbles, scientists can derived when Ice Ages have taken place.
Many glaciers throughout the world are in decline. The Antarctic is particularly vulnerable. The Müller Ice Shelf at Lallemand Fjord, Antarctic Peninsula is now receding after growing over a 400-year cooling period. The nearby Larsen Ice Shelf lost a 1200 square mile section early in 2002, prompting some glaciologists to be concerned that even the giant Ross Ice Shelf could be at risk. The mile-long ice cliff of Marr Ice Piedmont, Anvers Island, has also receded about 500 meters since the mid 1960s. The regional temperature has increased 5° C in winter over the past 50 years. This reduces seasonal icepack, disrupts growth of krill and changes conditions on penguin rookeries.
More famously in recent times is the decline of the world’s largest tropical glacier. Ohio State glaciologist Lonnie Thompson and his team created headlines in February when they found evidence the Qori Kalis glacier of the Quelccaya ice cap in the Peruvian Andes could lose half its mass in 12 months and could disappear in five years. Thompson was pessimistic that nothing could be done to halt the slide. "The question is, how far down this road do we go before there's any meaningful action to reduce emissions, what does the evidence have to be?" he said. "And unfortunately as human beings…we only deal well with crises."
However Greenpeace and Tunick are determined to tackle the problem in the Alps before it becomes a crisis. It could proven a potent team. Greenpeace are masters in the PR game and Spenser Tunick is known for his provocative mass nude photographs in usually urban settings across Europe. The New York artist calls them ‘living sculptures’ or ‘body landscapes’. Earlier this year he set a new record when he got 18,000 people to pose naked for his camera in Mexico City. Because of the unique challenge of shooting on a freezing glacier, the Greenpeace call for volunteers included a message they would not 'be naked for very long'. While Greenpeace’s political message took centre stage, Tunick himself held firm to an artistic motive. 'I want my images to go more than skin-deep, “he said. “I want the viewers to feel the vulnerability of their existence and how it relates closely to the sensitivity of the world's glaciers.”