Leslie Sobel

Photographer, visual artist
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Location: Ann Arbor, MI
Nationality: American
Biography: Leslie Sobel's work focuses on the environment, specifically on climate change and water. She has partnered with scientists in wilderness settings on several occasions and makes much of her work based in her experiences in remote places. In 2017... read on
Public Project
Climate change in the high latitudes - documenting glaciers
Credits: leslie sobel
Date of Work: 05/01/17 - Ongoing
Updated: 02/28/18

In May 2017 I climbed into a tiny two-seater plane and flew up to a glacier in the Canadian Yukon where I tent-camped with four climate scientists for more than a week. We were at an altitude of 10,000 feet, where temperatures dropped as low as minus 30 degrees. I’ve been a backpacker and wilderness hiker for decades, but this was the most remote, physically challenging trip I have ever taken. My residency in Kluane National Park was the culmination of multiple years’ work focused on making art about climate change. It took me into a setting I could not have gotten to on my own and was a tremendous adventure. The Eclipse Icefield has been studied by the same group of scientists for many years so it was a welcome chance to be part of their longitudinal project and learn more about how scientists study and work in such a remote wilderness setting. Camping on the ice, especially the day I ended up solo for most of it, was a profound experience. It's an immense landscape of remarkable beauty and it is at risk due to climate change. Since 2002 it has warmed an astonishing 4 degrees C. It is hard to envision what that means in the long term but certainly change.

As part of this project I also spent several weeks at the Kluane Lake Research Station - the base camp and logistical support for field work. Situated on Kluane Lake, the camp is ideally located to study the the first case of river poaching by a glacier. The Kaskawulsh Glacier receded far enough because of climate change to stop feeding the lake which has dropped more than a meter as a result. I was able to photograph the glacier and the dry river bed from the air as part of this project and have included some of those images in this project as well as glacial images from the heights. Sometimes what looks normal (icefields at high altitudes) is actually changing in ways with profound results downstream.

I am the daughter of 2 scientists and one of the few non-scientists/engineers in my family so thinking about the world from a scientific perspective comes naturally to me. I want to capture the emotion and beauty of places and not just the data because I strongly believe that people do not connect with data the way they do with feelings and if one is to effect change one needs to engage people's emotions.  I hope to continue working with glaciologist Seth Campbell at the Juneau Icefield in the future if funding permits to work with glaciogists on communicating science.

More on this project - published at ProWaxJournal and on my own blog.