In 2011, two Oregon explorers climbed Mount Hood and discovered a gaping hole in the Sandy Glacier. They descended 150 feet into the dark and found a network of passages extending like wormholes through the ice and caverns big enough to hold an orchestra.
For two years, they kept their discovery a secret.
In 2013, reporters Ed Jahn and Amelia Templeton were invited to break the story and join explorers Eduardo Cartaya and Brent McGregor during an ambitious and comprehensive 5-day survey of the caves. The exploration resulted in the first mapping of what is now considered the largest glacier cave system in the lower 48 states.
The glacier caves are a place of remarkable beauty and danger, but when Brent and Eduardo set out to measure how much the inside of the glacier was melting each year it revealed a previously uncalculated truth. The glacier, long known to be in retreat due to climate change, was also disintegrating from within at a remarkable pace. This was not just a story of adventure- this was a story of glacial meltdown, previously been hidden from view, that had worrisome implications for the study of climate change.
Few local reporters get the chance to introduce the world to a place that has never been comprehensively documented and that has such power to change an audience’s understanding of climate change. We aimed to convey that raw spirit of exploration, adventure and more importantly, science, through our multimedia effort. Thin Ice: Exploring Mount Hood’s Glacier Caves is an online experience that features time-lapse photography, animation, video and vivid writing that captures the same sense of a wonder felt inside the caves. It is designed to move the reader seamlessly from an initial tale of adventure and exploration and into a deeper understanding of the science of glacial change. The reaction from the public was tremendous and this online feature was our most heavily visited page in years.
The website went live October 3, 2013. Visitors spent on average more than 21 minutes on the page. Total reach for our online and television programming exceeded 31 million people, a staggering number for any local production.
While many organizations are telling stories across different media platforms, the Glacier Caves project helped usher in a new standard of excellence for multimedia storytelling for a public broadcasting station.