Capturing glaciers from above, before they vanish
Satellites have documented the inexorable retreat of the world’s glaciers. Garrett Fisher is on a quest to capture their sublime beauty before they are gone forever.
While the satellite images have provided decades of data for scientists, Fisher says they’re too remote, too two-dimensional. So, the 41-year-old Upstate New York native glides low and slow over the glaciers in his restored 1965 single-engine Piper Super Cub, recording what he calls nature’s “crown jewels” in all their majesty.
Growing up just outside Buffalo, Fisher idolized his grandfather, a scrappy pilot who also restored airplanes in a shop next door. Fisher took his first flight when he was 2, and earned his pilot’s certificate at 17.
He first became aware that the world’s glaciers were shrinking in the late 1990s. The self-taught photographer has been haunted by them ever since.
Fisher has spent years documenting glaciers in North America and Europe. He recently shifted his focus to Scandinavia, spending this past summer in the skies above Norway.
Glaciers in the Alps have lost approximately half of their volume since 1900, with clear acceleration since the 1980s. If greenhouse gas emissions aren’t heavily curtailed, scientists estimate those glaciers could lose up to 89% of their current volume by 2100.
It might seem counter-intuitive to document the effects of climate change from the cockpit of a gas-powered, CO2-emitting airplane. But Fisher does other things to lessen his carbon footprint, noting that his car is a hybrid, and that his home has been powered by hydraulic energy for years.
Except for some small donations, Fisher has funded his expeditions entirely out of his own pocket. As a finance industry insider, he certainly wouldn’t advise his clients to spend their money flying airplanes over remote icecaps where the air is thin and filled with turbulence.
But this is his passion. His goal is to leave a lasting record for future generations of a natural landscape that most likely will have disappeared.
AP video shot by Allen Breed and Bram Janssen