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James Balog Photography may be a worldwide enterprise, but there's nothing pretentious about the company's tiny office in Boulder. Past crammed filing cabinets and closet-sized offices are desks for a handful of employees, several of whom travel with Balog to the inhospitable locations he shoots for his Extreme Ice Survey (EIS).

After our interview with Balog (highlights of which begin here), one employee showed us a plastic baggie of oily black sand pinned to the wall. We had seen a NASA video of smoke plumes — smoke and debris from factories, wildfires and volcanoes that the wind carries to polar ice shelves — as viewed from space. It all accumulates on the ice as a solid; this was a sample, up close.

Near the baggie was a new $5,000 Nikon camera, wrapped tightly in plastic. Sullenly, the guy told us this camera had recently fallen into a small pool of that muck and freezing water, in Greenland. While he and Balog rushed to board a hovering helicopter, hastily grabbing equipment and retrieving items that were blowing away in the chopper's wind, the camera tumbled into the puddle. It stopped working instantly.

Unfortunately, the Nikon warranty doesn't cover a total loss, meaning everyone is getting used to the idea that the camera is, at best, an expensive paperweight.

So it goes when your other office is the top of the world.

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