FEATURED iLCP FELLOW FOR DECEMBER 2013
Chris Linder specializes in communicating science to the public using photography and multimedia. Chris holds a Master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program and maintains a part-time affiliation with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a Research Associate.
Since 2002, Chris has focused on communicating the stories of scientists working in the Arctic and Antarctic. His education and training as an oceanographer give him a special insight into photographing marine science. He has spent over a year of his life on expeditions to the polar regions.
His most recent project, "Live from the Poles", connected researchers with the public during the International Polar Year (2007-2009) using daily online photo essays (polardiscovery.whoi.edu) and lectures "from the ice" to museum audiences nationwide via satellite phone. This project, funded by the National Science Foundation and the Richard King Mellon Foundation, took him from the Greenland Ice Sheet to the Bering Sea and penguin colonies on Antarctica’s Ross Island. Chris’s work-in-progress science documentary projects include: Siberia’s “Carbon bomb”, Antarctica’s Ross Sea ecosystem, and the impacts of climate change on Greenland.
Chris's images have appeared in museums, books, calendars, and international magazines, including Geo (Germany), Nature’s Best, Outdoor Photographer, and Wired. A solo exhibition of his photographs, titled “Exploring the Arctic Seafloor,” opened at the Field Museum in Chicago in February 2007 and is currently touring science and natural history museums. He is currently finishing a book titled Science on Ice for the University of Chicago Press, which will be published in Fall 2011. He has been recognized with awards from the Veolia Environnement Wildlife Photographer of the Year, Nature’s Best Photography Windland Smith Rice International Awards, and International Conservation Photography Awards competitions.
iLCP: What conservation issue are you most concerned with right now and why?
Chris Linder (CL): For over ten years, I have been focusing on stories about climate change research in the Arctic and Antarctic (http://www.scienceonice.com).
In the Siberian Arctic, I am documenting research on permafrost thaw and the carbon cycle. Since the last ice age, vast reserves of ancient carbon have been locked up in the frozen arctic soil, or permafrost. However, as temperatures steadily rise, this permafrost is thawing, and the gooey carbon-rich soil is becoming a fresh food source for microbes. As they consume this ancient food, they respire methane and carbon dioxide, both potent greenhouse gases. The amount of carbon stored in Arctic permafrost soil is estimated to be 1,500 gigatons—more than double what is currently in our atmosphere or four times as much as is contained in global forest biomass. Scientists and the press have described it as a “carbon bomb” waiting to go off. Visually, this is not a glamorous story—the ‘charismatic megafauna’ are frozen mud and invisible gases... but I love a challenge, and the fate of this ancient carbon has huge implications for everyone living on this planet.
On the opposite end of the Earth, in the waters surrounding the West Antarctic Peninsula, scientists have observed dramatic ecosystem shifts in response to climate warming. In January-February 2015, I will be joining a science team at Palmer Station to produce daily photo essays about their research on Adélie penguins, krill, and ocean physics.
iLCP: What do like best about being in the field?
CL: In the office, I am usually working on a dozen or more tasks at once—writing proposals, preparing talks, creating multimedia videos, submitting images, talking to clients—the list is (seemingly) endless. In the field, I can devote all of my energy to simply making images. Even though I might be putting in 19 hour (or more) days and battling hordes of mosquitoes or subfreezing temperatures, it is satisfying to be completely immersed in a story.
iLCP: What is your best scary/funny/inspiring story from the field?
CL: I travel a lot for my stories, and unfortunately that means I sometimes miss big events at home. When my wife was pregnant with our second child, we were disappointed to learn that I would be in Antarctica during the ultrasound appointment to find out if we were having a boy or girl. Despite the distance, I was determined to hear the news firsthand. On the day of the appointment, I packed my satellite phone and called the hospital from the middle of the Cape Crozier penguin colony. Despite the cackling of a half-million Adélie penguins and numerous dropped calls, I eventually heard my wife say, “we’re having a boy!” The moment was so surreal that when my son was born four months later, we decided to name him Ian Crozier.
iLCP: What value do you see in an organization like iLCP?
CL: The iLCP is a network connecting some really passionate people. It connects not only like-minded photographers with each other, but also photographers with nonprofits, NGOs, policy makers, and the general public. Working individually, we can make strides. Working together, those strides become leaps.
iLCP: What do you get out of being a member of the iLCP Fellowship?
CL: iLCP Fellows are my heroes and mentors. On the iLCP Borderlands and Pinedale RAVEs, I had the pleasure of working alongside some truly inspirational photographers. During our evening discussions, we exchanged ideas, images, and laughs. Since then, we have kept in touch and their wisdom and mentorship over the years has been priceless.
iLCP: What makes a great Conservation Photographer?
CL: To me, conservation photography isn’t just about taking inspirational images; it’s also about what you do with those images afterwards. Great conservation photographers ensure that their images make an impact with the broadest possible audience, especially policy makers.
by Chris Linder
The Fraser is unique—it escaped the flurry of dam building that has altered nearly every other large river on the planet.
by Chris Linder
The Fraser River watershed, located in the Canadian province of British Columbia, includes the rain-soaked peaks of the Coast Range, the Canadian Rockies, and the dry sagebrush prairie ecosystem in between. The Fraser is unique—it escaped the flurry of dam building that has altered nearly every other large river on the planet. Yet, the Fraser faces other threats. The mountain pine beetle epidemic, which is raging unchecked due to a string of mild winters, may eliminate up to 80% of the native pine forest. As these dead trees are harvested, the exposed soil will receive more of the sun's heat, which will increase the temperature of the river water. If the water temperature exceeds 20 degrees C, salmon will no longer return to the Fraser—dubbed "the World's Greatest Salmon River"—to breed. Pollution from logging and pulp mills and excess nutrient input and contamination from mining operations also impact the health of the river.
In May 2011, when the Fraser swelled to overflowing with meltwater and rain, Dr. Bernhard Peucker-Ehrenbrink and graduate students Britta Voss and Sarah Rosengard traveled the length of the river, from the delta to the headwaters, taking samples from both the main stem and critical tributaries along the way. Their data, supplemented by more frequent measurements made by students from the University of the Fraser Valley, will be used to assess how the river and its watershed are changing—for better or worse—over the coming years.
I am grateful for aerial support provided by LightHawk for this assignment. This project has been featured as a Tripods in the Sky initiative by the International League of Conservation Photographers.