German photographer Tom Hegen’s aerial works offer startling perspectives of our environment; in his most recent series, ‘Two Degrees Celsius’ he documents the effects of global warming by photographing the Arctic ice sheet from an airplane 900 meters above the ground.
‘Two Degrees Celsius’ draws its name from the Paris Agreement, whose aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by ensuring that the temperature globally does not rise to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. It is a necessary measure at a time when the scale of human impact on the environment is without parallel, and scientists say, irreversible. Over the past century, we have released an unprecedented amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gasesinto the atmosphere; these emissions have caused the temperature of the Earth’s surface to rise, with the oceans absorbing approximately 80 percent of this additional heat.
In consequence, sea levels have also begun to rise—a problem Hegen illustrates in ‘Two Degrees Celsius’. The oldest and thickest sea ice in the Arctic has begun to break up, opening waters north of Greenland that are usually frozen year round. “One of the leading causes of sea level rise is the melting of ice from glaciers and ice sheets”, Hegen explains. “The Greenland ice sheet alone contains enough water to raise global sea levels by more than seven meters. The Arctic is the fastest warming place of this planet…its melting surface is one of the starkest examples of climate change.” As global sea levels seem set to rise by up to 60 centimeters by the end of the 21st century, the risk of displacement by water is a reality for one-fifth of the world’s population. Hegen’s photographs, though beautiful, stand as a warning to us all.