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Icy Inspiration

By Diane Burko

I am an artist consumed by how ice is an indicator of climate change. Greenland’s Petermann Glacier, whose ice sheet empties into the Arctic Ocean, first attracted my attention in 2010 when a large piece of its floating tongue cracked off. The giant iceberg that separated from the sheet (the size of four Manhattans) traveled south past Labrador and Newfoundland. Here is one painting from that series:

Petermann Calving, oil on Canvas, 60 x 72, 2012

This past August, I finally arrived in Greenland to visit another glacier with a compelling history: Ilulissat . It is the fastest moving glacier in the Northern Hemisphere, continually depositing icebergs into its long fjord, including the one that sunk the Titanic in 1912.

The following are some journal notes and images taken from that adventure:

I looked up from my New Yorker just in time to catch a first glimpse of the approaching coast of eastern Greenland from Reykjavik. Below me the icebergs were scattered everywhere. I shot frantically for about 3 minutes between iPhone and Canon trying to catch whatever I could through the frosted scratched airplane glass window.

Approaching, Archival inkjet print, 6″ x 10″, 2014

The sea below, brimming with ice, was captivating. Maybe it’s the visual majesty of this vast scale of primal landscape conflated with my mental anguish—the knowledge of its potential deadly impact on our lives, or I should say our impact on it—that just fills me with such intense emotions.

So many images to make paintings and prints from… Soon we were on the Western side, close to our destination with more visual wonders to capture:

To Ilulissat, August 4, Archival inkjet print, 40’’ x 60‘’, 2014

To Ilulissat, August 4, Archival inkjet print, 40’’ x 60’’, 2014

We arrived on Monday afternoon, August 4 and after settling in at the Ice Fjord Hotel with its magnificent views of the Bay, we headed out to explore. After climbing a set of long, wooden steps, we began an over two-hour hour trek to the edge of the boulders for our first glimpse of the moving fjord. The following day we took the alternative “blue” route, which brought us up to another edge further into the moving ice flow below.

Ilulissat Fjord Melange of moving ice flow

Having both the aerial and ground experience enriches my process of transforming my expeditions into art. Flying over Ilulissat in the evening was the culmination of my unique adventure:

The next day we flew by plane (a P68, much like the Cessna 72 I usually use) over the fjord, with a bird’s eye view on those same trails along the edge of the fjord which we traversed earlier in the week...

Of course, by plane we continued much further to Ilulissat. The fjord is 60 Kilometers in length before it reaches the actual solid glacier.

Over Ilulissat I, Archival inkjet print, 40" x 60”, 2014

Over Ilulissat II, Archival inkjet print, 40" x 60”, 2014

As we soared over the glacier, we stood aghast at the complexity of the system below us.

The expeditions I take are all made in an effort to provide an antidote to the irrational doubt that lingers in public discourse concerning the environment. I hope that the substance of my polar investigations justify the carbon footprint. To that end, I endeavor to not only exhibit my paintings and photographs but to also share my knowledge and experience through public speaking, forums, and writing.

Surge Lines in Glacier



Diane Burko is an artist who works at the intersection of art and science, where she collaborates with glaciologists and conducts polar expeditions, resulting in paintings and photographs about climate change.

Learn more at and

[Photos by Diane Burko]


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