“Ice is alive in some strange kind of way,” says James Balog, who has chronicled the disappearance of glaciers through the Extreme Ice Survey since 2007. “Glaciers are responsive to the weather and climate,” he says.

The undertaking was riddled with uncertainty: Balog didn’t know what exactly the glaciers would do; where along the rocky, remote terrain to fasten the time-lapse cameras; if they would work properly; or how he’d continue to fund the project over the years. But what he captured was the story of climate change etched in ice.

Sculpted by meltwater, Birthday Canyon in Greenland is about 46 meters deep. (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

When Balog started flicking through the first images, it was “mind boggling.”

“We’d gather around the back of the camera and go, ‘Oh my god, can you believe that?’” He and the imagemakers, engineers and scientists were looking at the impacts of climate change. “I wasn’t sure how my audiences would feel about the visual evidence once I got it,” says Balog.

Time-lapse cameras used for the ice survey in Alaska. (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

The project’s hardy cameras observe 23 glaciers. They record changes every half hour, year-round during daylight, generating about 8,000 frames per camera each year. Balog searched for solid bedrock to attach them and thought about light, composition and the advice of scientific partners.

The Stein Glacier in Switzerland, photographed in September 2006 (left) and September 2012 (right). (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

He amassed countless images of glaciers retreating dozens of meters in a year and losing hundreds of thousands of tons of ice in a matter of a week. (He also created a free online tool to teach about climate.)

Powdery soot blown from afar — caused by slash-and-burn deforestation, coal power plants and diesel exhaust — turns into cryoconite, which absorbs solar heat and melts down into the ice. (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

Ice is thinning and disappearing as the planet warms. In the last two centuries, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by 40 percent. A major greenhouse gas, it absorbs the Earth’s heat, slowly causing Earth’s temperature to rise and glaciers to retreat.

Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska, photographed in May 2007 (left) and September 2011. (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

The vast majority of glaciers around the world are retreating. There are many accounts that Mendenhall Glacier in Alaska is receding. In Montana’s Glacier National Park, 130 glaciers that glimmered in 1910 have disappeared. Just 25 remain. The summer season has grown longer, and the number of days above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius) has tripled since the 1900s. In 2012, 97 percent of Greenland’s ice sheet surface thawed.

A broken-off piece of an iceberg in Iceland flowing into the waves of the North Atlantic. (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

The melting has caused the seas to rise faster than before — about one-quarter of a centimeter per year.

Sólheimajökull Glacier in Iceland, photographed in December 2009 (left) and July 2011 (right). (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

In August 2014, the edge of Sólheimajökull Glacier rose 1.5 meters, causing concern in Iceland that a block of ice would break off and trigger a tidal wave.

As the Greenland ice sheet melts, ancient air bubbles are released. (Extreme Ice Survey/James Balog)

What was the climate like thousands of years ago? The past can be put together again by studying tiny air bubbles enclosed in ice. Since the 1950s, scientists have drilled through layers of ice to learn about the chemical composition and climate conditions of the past.

Ice core records allow them to measure concentrations of greenhouse gases going back some 800,000 years. But will scientists still have glaciers from which to drill centuries from now?