10 Breathtaking Pictures of Icy Worlds

Both intimate and monumental, the photography of Paul Nicklen captures the wonder of the polar regions.

Photographs by Paul Nicklen

Most people, if asked to describe their life’s most memorable moment, might share something profound but ultimately recognisable: getting ready for their wedding; a sunrise at the Grand Canyon; a really, really great baseball game.

Paul Nicklen shares moments from a different world entirely.

The Canadian photographer, who was raised in an Inuit community of some 300 people, has devoted his storied career to documenting the animal inhabitants and breathtaking landscapes of the polar regions. For him, extraordinary moments—like running naked across the nighttime tundra as 50,000 caribou tear through his camp, or being fed penguins by a leopard seal—are all part of the job.

A job which, for Nicklen, involves more than one kind of action. A dedicated conservationist, Nicklen co-founded SeaLegacy, a collective of visual storytellers who use their work to inspire global ocean conservation. And on Earth Day, Nicklen will also open a fine art gallery in New York City. A portion of the proceeds will support SeaLegacy’s youth education programs and documentary storytelling.

“It just seems like great timing to be celebrating conservation, nature, the stories of our changing planet,” Nicklen says of his work.

And as for his one memorable moment?

“I don’t really remember the near-death experiences,” Nicklen says. Instead, he describes a moment where waist-deep in an Arctic lake filming the aurora borealis, he realised he was surrounded by a pack of wolves.

“So the aurora borealis is rippling across the sky, and I see the space station going across on this dark, starry night, and I'm surrounded by twelve wolves howling.

“You have those moments, where you just really can't believe that you're alive at that moment, how lucky you are.”

Meltwater gushes from an ice cap on the island of Nordaustlandet, in Norway's Svalbard archipelago.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Concealed by rye grass covered with hoar frost, an arctic fox listens for mice under the winter snow in Churchill, Canada. When the season changes, the fox's coat turns as well, adopting a brown or grey appearance that provides cover among the summer tundra's rocks and plants.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Preparing to launch from the sea to the sea ice, an emperor penguin reaches maximum speed in the Ross Sea, Antarctica.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Male narwhals rest in Canada's Admiralty Inlet. In spring, as the ice pack recedes, narwhals push into cracks and holes as they migrate. Their compact size and lack of dorsal fins aid travel beneath the ice. The annual migration also brings them within range of human hunters.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

In a far north without ice, a mother bear could be stranded a long way from good hunting, struggling to feed herself and her cubs. This snow-free scene near Kapp Fanshawe (Cape Fanshawe) offers a glimpse of what may be the Arctic's rockier future.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

King penguins gathered at a rookery in Gold Harbor, South Georgia Island, Antarctica.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Inspecting a human interloper, this female polar bear noses into photographer Paul Nicklen's cabin after munching on his snowmobile seat, his camera bag, and his hat. The icy strip of land just outside was a "bear superhighway," Nicklen recalls. "They'd come hungry, looking for food."
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Tusks of all lengths suggest a mix of ages among these walruses, part of Svalbard's peak summer count. By the early 1900s ivory hunters had nearly wiped out Norway's herds. Protected since 1952, the population is still recovering.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Huge footprints reveal a polar bear's path on Svalbard. Fur grows even on the bottom of a bear's paws, protecting against cold and providing a good grip on ice.
PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

Header Image: A ringed seal scans for polar bears before snatching a breath off of Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic. PHOTOGRAPH BY PAUL NICKLEN

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