Photos of a Disappearing "Planet Ice"

Icebergs which have broken off from an Antarctic ice shelf float off the South Shetland Islands.
Icebergs which have broken off from an Antarctic ice shelf float off the South Shetland Islands.

Written by CBS News producer Phil Hirschkorn and correspondent Russ Mitchell

Nature photographer Jim Martin remembers when the Rhone Glacier in Switzerland extended for thousands of feet down a hillside. Within 13 years, it has thinned and receded so much, it is mostly bare rock.

Martin's photographs of the changing face of Rhone and a number of global melting spots are the focus of a new book, "Planet Ice," published by The Mountaineers Books.

Martin, who grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area with a love of hiking, has been based in the Seattle for the past 30 years. Now, he spends weeks a time traveling and chronicling the effects of climate change with his camera.

"When I saw what I loved, literally, melting in front of my eyes, I wanted to alert people," Martin told CBS News in an interview before the global climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Some of the starkest change he has seen is in the Canadian Rockies.

"In 1975, I learned to ice climb in the Athabasca Glacier by repelling into a crevice of maybe 30 or 40 feet and climbing out,' Martin recalled.

"When I returned five years ago, the ice was gone. There was not a trace of it. All I could see was boulders for half a mile."

In Greenland, it is the rapidly melting sea ice that caught Martin's eye.

"We've lost a million square miles of ice, which is the same area as Alaska, Texas, and California, and we're predicted to lose another million in the next 20 years," he said.

One spot where the change is most acute is Greenland's Ilulissat Glacier.

"When I was up on the glacier, there was no place you could put up a tent where there wasn't a puddle of water," Martin said.

Even the world's tallest mountain range - the Himalayas -- is losing glaciers rapidly.

"The sherpas can no longer go from one valley to another because the glaciers they used to walk on are gone. And worst of all - the rivers -- have less and less water year by year," Martin said. "The major rivers of Asia all come out of the Himalayas and surrounding mountains, and that could have catastrophic environmental effects // in China and Southeast Asia."

Even the world's coldest place, Antarctica, is warming up.

"The ice shelves there totally disintegrated. Areas the size of Rhode Island just crumbled and went out to sea in a matter of three weeks," Martin said.

Evidence of climate change also lies at home in the United States.

The Columbia Glacier in Alaska has lost the equivalent of thickness of the Empire State Building just in the last couple decades, according to Martin.

"The most ironic example would Glacier National Park, which used to have glaciers that were hundreds feet thick," Martin said. His photos of a patchy Grinnell Glacier show the difference.

"Within a couple of decades, there will be no glaciers at all. There's just a few remnants left. It's shocking. It's just rocks."

Martin said he is disturbed by recent polls showing fewer Americans today believe that the world is warming up than the number that did just a few years ago.

"It's disappointing, because the facts are clearly going the other direction," Martin said. "We can't stop climate change in its tracks. It's kind of like a super tanker, but you can put on the breaks and stop making it worse."

"There is a cost for doing nothing," Martin said. "Rising sea levels…wilder weather, and also the loss of beauty."

Beauty captured so well in his photographs.