Tag Archives: peter essick

Climate Change: Good News From the Front Lines

Fernbank Forest, Downtown Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Photographed from a drone. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.
A view above Fernbank Forest, with Atlanta, Georgia in the background. Fernbank Forest is a 65-acre urban old-growth Piedmont forest being conserved and protected near downtown Atlanta.

The news coming out of Washington DC, in the form of the President’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, has been disheartening for many who are concerned about the state of our climate and environment. But there is good news, too. On the front lines of the fight against global warming and climate change, much is being done at the grass roots level, at the local governmental level, and through independent scientific research. Several Aurora photographers have been on those front lines covering the stories of positive change and bring us the following good news.

Ice storm experiments in New Hampshire, by Joe Klementovich

Researcher does research on replicated man-made ice storm damage in order to study the effects of ice storms in New Hampshire forests
A researcher from Hubbard Brook Research center examines man-made ice damage from a replicated ice storm in a New Hampshire forest in order to study the effects of ice storms on the environment.

Ice climbing, mountaineering and suffering at cold belays has prepared me well for shooting through the frigid February nights at Hubbard Brook Research center. Tucked back in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, Hubbard Brook has been studying the environment on a large scale since 1955. They were the first group that discovered acid rain back in the 70’s. The last two winters, graduate students, scientists, and researchers have been mimicking ice storms to study the effects on the forest, looking at everything from soil change to the impact on birds and insects.

Having a dedicated photography and film crew to capture the process as well as the aftermath allowed the researchers to create a library of images and video that has become critical in explaining and sharing the experiment at a public level and to the scientific community. Photographs and video were picked up on a wide variety of outlets ranging from National Geographic to the Weather Channel to the local paper.

In a day and age where science is under attack from various corners, producing a photographic record will hopefully pushed the climate change conversation into living rooms and cafes, not just the research offices, and help show the real life impacts it is creating. The experiments have been a success scientifically, but it also showed the science community that being able to effectively demonstrate their work to the world visually is just as important as the experiments.

Click here to see more photos of the ice storm experiments by Joe Klementovich

Hubbard Brook Website. http://hubbardbrook.org/overview/history.shtml 

Energy Independence at the Ashram, by Ashley Cooper

The Muni Seva Ashram in Goraj, near Vadodara, India, is a tranquil haven of humanitarian care. The Ashram is hugely sustainable, next year it will be completely carbon neutral. Its first solar panels were installed in 1984, long before climate change was on anyones agenda. Their energy is provided from solar panels, and wood grown on the estate. Waste food and animal manure is turned inot biogas to run the estates cars and also used for cooking. Solar cookers are also used, and the air conditioning for the hospital is solar run. 70 % of the food used is grown on the estate. They provide an orphanage, schools for all ages, vocational training, care for the elderly, a specialist cancer hospital withstate of the art machinary, and even have a solar crematorium. This shot shows students making a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on an expedition to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food.
Students at the Muni Seva Ashram i Goraj, India, make a portable solar cooker. These lightweight devices were used on expeditions to the Himalayas to cook all the expeditions food. Almost 100% of energy at the Ashram is generated through solar and wood grown on the estate.

Visiting the Muni Seva Ashram, in Goraj, India, is like stepping into a haven of peace and tranquility. The Ashram delivers services from the cradle to the grave. They provide an orphanage, infant and secondary schools, vocational training, old people’s sheltered housing, and a specialist cancer hospital with all the latest high tech equipment. The Ashram is 100% powered by renewable energies. They fitted their first solar panels in 1984, long before any one had heard of climate change. Since then they have invested in more and more renewable technologies. Solar panels, provide much of the energy, along with biofuel which is generated onsite from food waste and wood from the estate. 70% of the food is grown organically in the grounds. The two cars used by the Ashram run on biogas, and even the air conditioning in the hospital is solar powered.

Deepak Gadhia had been a successful Indian business man until his wife died of cancer. From that point on he dedicated the rest of his life to supporting the Ashram and has been the driving force behind its conversion to renewable and sustainable practices. His enthusiasm has been infectious, and his dedication to helping his fellow citizens humbling. His proudest moment of my tour was showing me the world’s first solar crematorium, designed by Deepak and built on the estate. Local religion dictates that upon death you are cremated. In the past locals have gone into the forest to chop down enough wood to build a funeral pyre. Long term, this is a destructive process that impacts on biodiversity. The large solar reflector, concentrates the suns rays on a metal box in which the body is placed. It can burn four bodies a day, leaving the local forest intact.

I left the ashram amazed by what I had seen and convinced that this has to be the way forward, it is possible to power our lives exclusively from renewable energy, and if we are serious about tackling climate change it is the only option we have.

Click here to see more photos of the Ashram by Ashley Cooper

Fernbank Forest Restoration, by Peter Essick

Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia
Southern two-lined salamander (Eurycea cirrigera), Fernbank Forest, Atlanta, Georgia. Delicate amphibians like salamanders are often the first affected by changing climate. Restoring habitat like Fernbank conserves critical biodiversity where urban areas might otherwise encroach.

Fernbank Forest is a 65-arce urban old-growth forest a few minutes from downtown Atlanta. The forest is owned by the Fernbank Museum nearby, but until recently few people were allowed to visit. The forest is an excellent example of a southern Piedmont forest with many species of old-growth trees, animals and native plants. However, in recent years the forest floor was overrun with invasive plants such as English Ivy, monkey grass and wisteria. Through the help of volunteers, donors, ecologists and donors the museum began a program of restoration four years ago. This past October, the forest was opened to the public and restoration efforts continue. It is hoped that over the coming years the forest can be restored to a fully functioning forest that will not only be enjoyed by visitors and wildlife, but also become a valuable asset in the battle against climate change.

I started photographing Fernbank Forest almost two years ago to document both the natural beauty and the restoration efforts. The difference to the forest floor was very evident this spring as many native wildflowers and ferns  began blooming in areas that were once covered in ivy. I hope that my photos will show that urban forests are not only vital green spaces for our environment, but can be a rewarding subject for an photographer willing to walk in the woods with their eyes open and camera ready.

Click here to see more photos of Fernbank Forest by Peter Essick

Clean Cookstoves and Solar Sister Make a Difference, by Joanna B. Pinneo

Mforo, Tanzania a village near Moshi, Tanzania. Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove that uses wood. Fatma Mziray is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns. Fatma heard about the cookstoves from a Solar Sister development associate and decided to try one out. The smoke from cooking on her traditional wood stove using firewood was causing her to have a lot of heath problems, her lungs congested her eyes stinging and her doctor told her that she had to stop cooking that way. Some days she felt so bad she couldn't go in to cook. Fatma said, ?Cooking for a family, preparing breakfast, lunch and dinner I used to gather a large load of wood every day to use. Now with the new cook stove the same load of wood can last up to three weeks of cooking. ?With the extra time I can develop my business. I also have more time for the family. I can monitor my children?s studies. All of this makes for a happier family and a better relationship with my husband. Since using the clean cookstove no one has been sick or gone to the hospital due to flu.? Fatma sees herself helping her community because she no longer sees the people that she has sold cookstoves have red eyes, coughing or sick like they used to be. She has been able to help with the school fees for her children, purchase items for the home and a cow. ?What makes me wake up early every morning and take my cookstoves and go to my business is to be able to take my family to school as well as to get food and other family needs.?
Solar Sister entrepreneur Fatma Mziray cooking dinner on her clean cookstove in Mforo, Tanzania. Fatma is a Solar Sister entrepreneur who sells both clean cookstoves and solar lanterns.

The most dangerous activity for a woman in the developing world is cooking for her family. More than three billion people worldwide still cook and heat their homes using solid fuels. The simple act of cooking causes roughly 4.3 million premature deaths per year from respiratory and pulminary illnesses from smoke inhilation.  These deaths disproportionately affect women and children who spend the most time indoors in close proximity to dirty cook stoves.

Fatma Mziray, a vibrant thirty-eight year-old Tanzanian woman, raises six children, works on the farm with her husband, runs two side businesses and cooks most of the three meals a day for her family.  Fatma has not always been this healthy and vibrant. Like others in her community she cooked over a traditional three-stone cook stove that is highly smoky. Fatma started having chest pains, her eyes were red and watery and she was always tired. When Fatma heard about an easy to use and inexpensive efficient cook stove from a Solar Sister Tanzanian entrepreneur, she bought one. Not only did she start feeling better immediately, as did her children, but she noticed that she used a fraction of the firewood as the traditional cooking method. Now she is a Solar Sister entrepreneur. herself. Working with and organization like Solar Sister provides her with extra cash to send her children onto secondary school, an opportunity she did not have. She also helps other women in her area to improve the health of their families, simultaneously lessening local deforestation and reducing carbon emissions from traditional stoves.

In 2016 I received a Ted Scripps Fellowship at University of Colorado in Boulder to study environmental journalism and research household air pollution. Through working with Ripple Effect Images, I learned about the devastating effects of household air pollution, especially on women and children in the developing world. Great progress has been made by organizations like Solar Sister to find creative life changing and life saving solutions that also make our planet cleaner and more livable. Although the stoves are not 100% clean technology, they are significantly more efficient and healthier than the three-stone method. The Solar Sister model works because not only do women like the stove, but the peer to peer effort to sell and distribute the stoves makes local women more likely to put the new cleaner stove to use.

Click here to see more photos of Solar Sister by Joanna B. Pinneo

You can  view more stories and images of climate impact, both positive and negative, in our Environmental Photography collection. Through this collection, Aurora provides communication professionals the visual resources to effectively tell the evolving story of our environment and our planet.

Photographer Q&A: Peter Essick Documents the Pine Beetle Epidemic for National Geographic

Award-winning photojournalist Peter Essick has been traveling the globe documenting environmental issues for the past two decades. He’s also a frequent contributor to National Geographic, having shot more than 40 stories for the publication in the past 25 years. Last April, Peter was commissioned by the magazine to photograph a feature story about a pine beetle outbreak that has destroyed more than 60 million acres of forest from New Mexico to British Columbia. Pine beetles don’t typically exhibit this type of remarkable population growth. So what’s causing the crisis?

The author Hillary Rosner writes, “Rising temperatures and drought have stressed trees, leaving them unable to fight an invasion. Warmer weather also has boosted the beetles’ population and greatly expanded their range. They’re flourishing farther north and at higher elevations, invading pine trees, such as jack pine and whitebark, that had rarely seen them until a few years ago. Because these trees aren’t as good at defending themselves, a smaller band of beetles can overwhelm them. Three-quarters of the mature whitebark pines in Yellowstone National Park are now dead—a blow to grizzly bears, which eat the seeds in autumn, and to Clark’s nutcrackers, which cache the seeds for winter.”

The outbreak originated in the central region of British Columbia and moved through the mountain American Western states of Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho and Washington. Recently, the most active outbreak in the USA occurred in South Dakota. The beetles have also spread across the Rocky Mountains to Alberta during two large storms.

Essick visited all of these regions to photograph the story.  In the Q&A below, we talk to him about the experience.

Helicopter surveying of red trees by the Alberta Government near Grande Prairie a part of a mountain pine beetle control program. The red trees are all marked on GPS and in the crews go back in November and mark a 50 meter circle around infested trees and find all other trees infestested. Then in the winter crews go back and cut down all those trees and burn them.

How exactly does the mountain pine beetle kill the forest?

It attacks the inner bark or phloem that feeds the tree. First, a female beetle bores through the bark, and if she likes the tree she sends out a scent signal for other beetles to come to the tree. Often hundreds of beetles will then bore into the tree within a 24 hour period. The tree puts out sap to try to stop the beetles boring, but usually the beetles can overcome the tree’s defenses. The beetles then begin to chew tunnels through the inner bark where the females each lay about 50 eggs. The eggs then turn to larvae within a week and stay inside the tree throughout winter. If it gets really cold the larvae will die, but because it has been warmer in the winter due to climate change, more larvae are surviving. In early summer, the larvae hatch and then fly to another tree repeating the cycle. In recent warmer years, as many as 10 beetles have been coming out of the tree for each one that entered. That is why there are now outbreaks of beetles that can fill entire forests.

Colorado State University professor and beetle researcher Dan West collects mountain pine beetles from a ponderosa pine that was being attacked in a forest in the Front Range west of Ft. Collins.

How have the locals reacted?

The beetle is a native species and has always been a part of the forest, but now it is causing severe damage to whole forests so the locals don’t like it at all. Some have made a living out of salvage logging and carving the beetle kill wood, but overall it is bad for local economies based on logging or recreation.

In the town of Custer, South Dakota, some locals tried to think of something positive they could do for the community regarding the beetle. They thought of the burning man and came up with the idea to do the burning beetle to draw the community together and hopefully over the long run create a tourist draw.

Burning of Pine Beetle Effigy, Custer, South Dakota. the Ponderosa Pine trees of the Black Hills have been hit hard by the pine beetle. A local woodworker with the help of other in the community constructed a 26-foot long wooden pine beetle out of beetle kill wood and plywood reinforcement. It was loaded with fuel and candle fuses and set on fire

Experimental Fire in Beetlekill Forest, near Vandrhoof, Canada. A group from the Canadian Ministry of Forests is doing a test to see how fire reacts in beetlekill forest. They have several blocks and have firefighters surrounding the blocks before they are set on fire. The trees are mostly in the gray stage so there is a lot od down woody debris and fallen trees low, but no needles on the dead trees.

What attempts have been made to manage the beetle population?

Nothing to date has been successful in controlling the outbreaks. Pheromone patches have been nailed to trees to fool the beetles, but have had limited success. There is an insecticide that can be sprayed on an individual tree, but the cost is about $50/tree for one year of protection. It also kills all other insects in the tree as well. In Alberta, they have been identifying newly attacked trees by helicopter and then going back in the winter and cutting down the trees and burning then hoping to stop or slow down the outbreak. This is very expensive and may or may not work in the long run.

Pine beetle flying on a leash in the lab of Maya Evenden at the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. Research is being done here to see how far mountain pine beetles can fly. They have found the average to be about 6km and one flew 24 km.

What was it like traveling around the forest while tracking the beetles? What did you find most challenging about documenting this story?

I did a lot of driving through the western states looking for areas to photograph. The scientists are always interesting to talk to about their research.

The one challenge that was different about this story was doing macro photography of the beetles. The beetle is about the size of a grain of rice, so the photographer needs to use a special lens that can go to 3X to 4X life size to get a full frame photo of the beetle in its environment.

Red Bellied Checkered beetle (Enoclerus sphegeus) preying on a mountain pine beetle.

See a complete lightbox with all of the images from this story here.

View all of Peter’s work available for purchase through Aurora here

New Images for November

An athletic girl stretching on a bridge.

October and November are months of transition, and our recent images reflect that. For some, it’s a transition from warmer days to snow and cold, and making sure they get in every single possible beach day, outdoor run, wave to surf and cliff to jump. For others, it’s about getting in better shape and finding the motivation to be as physically fit as possible, through strenuous outdoor activities or grueling feats of strength in Crossfit. For one photographer, it’s an expectant wife and the possibilities of teaching the child the joys of nature. There’s also the destruction caused by the pine beetle, an aftermath of the rising temperatures, and the scientists working to counter this voracious invader. Or, if you’d prefer, we also have personal adventures and exotic journeys, the Volvo Ocean Race in France, friendly manatee encounters, incredible aerial landscapes, climbing galore, dogsledding, urban chicken raising and high-lining. There’s even an event where people sleep in hammocks on a highline in the Dolomites!

And if you want to skip ahead to the wonderful white world of the winter, who are we to stop you? All this can be viewed here: http://www.auroraphotos.com/result?webseries_id=14734

Their Favorite Winter Pics

Aurora’s contributors are a rare breed, always willing to go the extra mile to capture an amazing image. They thrive in the winter, a season during which many give up on the outdoors and stay inside, sipping hot cocoa and catching up on TV. We wanted to get to the heart of why Aurora photographers connect so profoundly with the harsh conditions and stark beauty of the coldest of seasons. So we asked our photographers to choose their favorite winter image and tell us why — here’s what they said:

Airborne skier flies above clouds

I’ve skied Mt. Adams in Washington 50+ times, and there’s always a risk, either from chance or the failure to recognize dangers. And on this day, I almost got wiped off the North Face by an avalanche. I had climbed the North face North West ridge and halfway up decided to turn around because it was getting too warm. Suddenly, a wet slide was triggered a few thousand feet above me (on a route we had just skied the day before) and came down, missing me by inches. It was only about 20 feet wide, but it was heavy snow and was going very, very fast on a very steep slope. It was a scary moment.” – Jason Hummel

2013

“Mont Blanc is the most famous peak to ascend in the Alps. For me, this image shows how the mountaineers put their lives in the service of the mountain.” – David Santiago Garcia

Underwater Iceberg, Antarctic Peninsula

“I’ve spent years photographing glaciers and ice on six continents, but this is one of my favorite images. It’s shot from a small zodiac inflatable boat in Antarctica, and captures so much of the graceful lines and cold beauty of the massive icebergs there.” – Paul Souders

A man ice climbing a frozen waterfall through a sandstone arch in Utah.

“This unique frozen waterfall, in a remote area of Utah , rarely forms ice solid enough to climb. You have to hike in a ways to find the frozen falls, which keeps the crowds away. “ – Whit Richardson

Two people are climbing a frozen waterfall in Sounkyo Gorge, Daisetsuzan National Park, Hokkaido, Japan.

“The combination of people enjoying adventure sport in a spectacular landscape is what photography is all about for me.”  – Andrew Peacock

A snowboarder soaring in the air at sunrise in the Sierra Nevada mountains near Lake Tahoe, California.

“I’ve been snowboarding most of my life and this image always reminds me of the freedom you feel when you launch into the air on a perfect powder day in the backcountry.” – Rachid Dahnoun

Moonbow, Lake O'Hara and surrounding mountains, Yoho National Park, Canada

It had snowed all day at Lake O’Hara in Yoho National Park, a beautiful park in the Canadian Rockies. After the sun set, it cleared and I went outside. A full moon had risen, and because of the icy particles in the air, a moondog or paraselene was visible. I had often seen a sundog, but I had never seen the moon variety before. It lasted for several minutes before more clouds appeared.” – Peter Essick

Snowfall at Cradle Mountain National Park.

“I went into Cradle Mountain National Park, in Tasmania, with this specific idea: to shoot a pandani plant lit with warm light against the blue cold snowy scene.” – Heath Holden

Big mountain skiing in Haines, Alaska

“I love the vertical symmetry of lights and darks. I love the shadows on the left that mimic mountains, pointing towards the skier. I love the fly-on-wall perspective, along with the speed evoked by the flying snow left by the skier’s wake. And the skier… that’s Seth Morrison, far and away one of skiing’s bigger-than-life legends for the past 2 decades. It was shot in Haines, AK, via helicopter access. It just feels as thought the stars aligned on this one.” – Gabe Rogel

A snowshoer taking in a wintery scene

“This picture taken in Mammoth Lakes, California, is of my brother from Texas, snowshoeing for the first time. It’s my favorite because it captures the wonder and majesty of being out in a snowstorm, when the snow muffles all sound except the crunch of your steps and the quiet patter of snowflakes on your jacket. .”  – Dana Felthauser

Grand Tetons, Wyoming

“This image of the Tetons was a look at an old friend in a new way, a position a bit more north than I had seen before. The breaking storm gave the black and white image an even more commanding sense of the balance of the mountain.” – Joel Addams

See more of our photographer’s favorite winter images here: http://www.auroraphotos.com/index.php?module=result&webseries_id=17499