SunGlacier to Poland, IceBerg Riders on VPRO.

Saturday, September 7th, project SunGlacier will be presented in Warsaw, Poland, as a contribution to the PRZE MIANY FESTIWAL. (more information on:

At 4:00 pm the film ‘IceBerg Riders’ – the start of the SunGlacier Project – will be shown, followed by a complete presentation of the SunGlacier Project.

On Dutch TV channel HollandDoc 24 the film ‘IceBerg Riders’ will be broadcasted from Saturday September 7th, 10:05 PM and on other days that same week.

Development sponsor of project SunGlacier is

Searching for safe adaptation

An earlier post looked at the extreme tornadoes last May in Oklahoma, and how more storm shelters in homes, schools and businesses could save lives in this area. There’s now such an initiative from parents there who lost their children. Their goal is to ensure that storm shelters are installed in every school in the state.

This kind of movement is sensible in that it’s a very basic and realistic step that has the potential to protect children and adults from storms that have always been likely to come, and now seem to be growing in size and power. The Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore had no storm shelters, and seven children were killed by the F5 tornado there last May 20. There are storm warnings, there are construction capabilities – now there are parents pushing for the common resolve to cut through bureaucracy and financial challenges to adapt to nature with available means, and most likely save the lives of other children in the future.

Adaptation has throughout history required a departure from common notions and routines.  If governments are not providing adequate protection in some areas, it’s up to us to find ways to take care of ourselves. Creative thought can lead to solutions that hold promise of being effective, but people will have to adjust their mindset. Infrastructure and technology that may have offered protection for years might not be the most effective choice moving forward.

So it is up to all of us to continue a positive push to benefit our future lives. Innovation is often considered unusual  – at least until the masses embrace positive results from those who dared to try a different approach.

Unbelievably Positive at TEDx

For anyone wanting to believe the unbelievable, yes, that was me on stage in the video presenting at a TEDx event in Amsterdam earlier this month!

“Extreme weather needs extreme solutions” was my central theme when I had the pleasure of explaining my projects and sharing excerpts from my films. In short, my cool(E)motion project promoted climate awareness, and SunGlacier encourages innovative responses.

It was stimulating to interact and share inspirations with people at the event. The positive atmosphere there was encouraging, and I hope that more people can see the impact of our planet’s changes in an urgent AND positive way.

TEDx nicely introduced my philosophy on their website: “Verheggen is an artist who likes to make the impossible possible in a very practical but almost inconceivable way.” That is one of my main goals, as simply an artist working to help inspire real people to believe in the unbelievable when searching for real ways to adapt to climate extremes. 

Have a look at the video to join me on a voyage of extreme thinking in the Arctic and the hot desert — Ap

“Responsible” Now!

The predictability of climate change patterns is like a slot machine. We can only guess exactly what will happen when, where and to what extent.  But one certainty is that everyone will be affected by changes in some way.

(Illustration by Ap)

Scientists can’t yet determine the outcome of our planet’s climate, so we only can respond to what we see now to help us and future generations survive. Adaptation to climate change is about making responsible adjustments to changes around us: rising tides, droughts, fires, floods and so on.

Nature is like our mother in charge, and we are the children. Our planet’s weather is undergoing some kind of extreme mutation, and it’s a bit naïve to think we can “push a few buttons” or pass regulations to change conditions back to earlier “normal” times. It’s like trying to hit – Control –  Alt – Delete – to put Earth in reset mode!
A number of think tanks are looking for this “reset” button to stabilize long-term climate conditions. But we urgently need more thinkers who are focused on damage control and adaptation to worst-case scenarios that are already hitting the worst-possible places. With some innovative approaches, maybe we can even find ways to benefit from these changes already taking place.
It’s only a matter of standing by until nature strikes again, and then moving into response mode, like with Hurricanes Katrina & Sandy, the Europe floods of 2013, and counting. Responsible investments in adapting human engineering before the storms are less costly than the damage afterward. For example, more aggressive reinforcement of dikes after previous flooding in Germany could have prevented some of the present billions of euros in flood damage.
When facing the great climate change slot machine, we need to focus on more fresh, responsible approaches to benefit our next generations. “Sustainable” programs are welcome initiatives by businesses, governments and NGOs to help make a difference, and let’s take it a step further by ensuring we are taking proactive“Responsible” action that will have a positive impact now and when the next storm comes.     

Living with Uncertain Nature

“Believe the unbelievable: we can find solutions” is the central theme of a SunGlacier TEDx live presentation in Amsterdam on June 12th.  The entire scope of the need to find climate solutions – and what is being done –  is inspiring and unsettling at the same time.

Climate change has reeled our planet in different directions throughout its existence, and many agree that present changes are contributing to weather extremes in the news.  Phillip Muller, foreign minister of the Marshall Islands, wrote in a Washington Post editorial today that the Pacific country is in a state of disaster over a shortage of drinking water that has been caused by a prolonged unseasonable drought. Crops have been lost and drought-related diseases are on the rise. Muller stated, “Climate change has become the No. 1 threat to my country and our people.”

Moore, Oklahoma. (Jason Colston/American Red Cross)

It’s clear that conditions are changing, but are we actually experiencing more destructive weather?  Or is it just that denser populations over larger areas make bigger targets for extreme weather that is reported more frequently by the media? Spring tornadoes in the U.S. Plains states are not a new phenomenon, but storm chaser videos bring the twisters online and into our living rooms.

Scientists don’t all agree on what’s happening or why. SunGlacier’s purpose is not about answering fundamental questions of why the weather spins the way it does  or who’s to blame. The project is about inspiring belief in out-of-the-ordinary solutions that can help people adapt, survive and prosper.

A simple thought supporting climate change = culture changesurfaced recently on social media. There was such an outcry for U.S. gun control legislation after the Sandy Hook school shootings, but why aren’t more people calling for regulations requiring tornado shelters or building codes to save lives after the deadly Oklahoma tornado?  Maybe there will be some changes, but challenges in logistics, budgets and long-time planning methods make it difficult to implement quick solutions.  Innovative ideas such as Kevlar-protected rooms have potential if they can be made widely affordable through initiatives like government incentives. (It’s tempting to ponder if these rooms will be equipped with seat belts.) In any case, we can expand these types of responses to strengthening levies in flood-prone areas, finding alternative fresh-water sources, ensuring use of the best available weather warning systems and so on.

(UPDATE: Another massive tornado hit a suburb west of Oklahoma City just hours after this blog was posted, killing 18, including three storm chasers.  The F5 twister was the widest tornado ever recorded at 4.2 km, or 2.6 miles, across.)

Moore, Oklahoma. (Jason Colston/American Red Cross)

Science is of course not close to being able to prevent tornadoes, hurricanes and droughts. We can, however, take steps in adapting to conditions, while still investing in long-term solutions that at least contain hope of keeping current conditions form getting worse. Phillip Muller wrote, “The Republic of the Marshall Islands is accelerating its transition to low-carbon development, using solar power and exploring promising ocean-energy technologies. But our efforts will put only a tiny dent in this problem.”

SunGlacier aims to make ice in a hot, dry desert: an artwork that pushes the limits of technology and conventional thinking. We’ve already tested successfully in a closed setting, but there are uncertainties and new questions when building the structure in open air. The only way to find any answers to this project  and our planet   is through applied experience and creative plans to continue to adjust and adapt.  

Nature’s laws are so complex and unpredictable that we will never find all the answers why our planet’s climate conditions exist, but we still must respond with our best efforts.  Like the SunGlacier project, we only can think about succeeding when we understand that we have to cope with extremities.

And looking toward next month and the TEDx presentation, most people in the Netherlands probably won’t miss this month of May that’s about to go in the colder-than-normal weather records.

Why Are We Freezing in the Desert?

When working on a project as challenging and unusual as building a glacier in the desert, it’s important to be able to answer core questions: Why we are doing this? What can be gained?

We are not concerned with debating why the Earth’s climate is changing; for SunGlacier it’s important to focus on the fact that our climate is changing and that man needs to adapt. A recent report stated that all 12 years so far of the 21st century rank among the 14 warmest of 133 years on record. And more frequent extreme and erratic weather events are getting the attention of even the skeptics. Australia is on a roller coaster of droughts, floods and fires. Hurricane Sandy left a new kind of footprint on New York. Record temperatures are baking, and then freezing populations in a number of regions. The list goes on and wraps itself around the world. Environmentalist Al Gore made his best comment yet last month on NBC, “These storms – it’s like a nature hike through the Book of Revelation on the news every day now. People are connecting the dots.”


So, what is the answer to why we are here?  We want to put human faces on change, adaptation and a positive continuation of life – instead of using cuddly animals (a kind of “Bambification”) to tell the story. Yes, seals in Greenland are becoming thinner and losing their hair, but hunters and fishermen there are adjusting their methods of survival to adapt to changing ice conditions, sea temperatures and tides. Art projects like SunGlacier can help bring more attention to how people are adapting their most basic ways of supporting life, and hopefully inspire thinking outside of comfort zones to inspire solutions that can carry us more than 100 years into the future. Changes in the Arctic may seem far away until they creep – as they are doing already – into backyards, farms and forests of Europe and the Americas.


SunGlacier aims to challenge people to look beyond the scientific data, beyond the debate about greenhouse gases and carbon footprints, and beyond the politics of what countries practice “effective” environmental standards. These issues of course need to be addressed to mitigate future effects, but our immediate concern is on adaptation. Let’s move away from the naming, blaming and shaming about climate change, but rather find ways how we as people can continue to thrive on our planet – as we have always done in the past. Barack Obama said at his inauguration that failure to respond to climate change “would betray our children and future generations.”

Building a glacier in the desert is a relatively small thing compared to the new kinds of thought that can be inspired as a result. Scientists, artists, government leaders and all corners of the general public need to spend more time and resources on finding collective ways to bring benefits from what is already upon us. In other words, embrace the enemy when possible instead of spilling energy fighting against it. It’s not a far stretch to see where we stand in the title of a classic rock song “Skating Away on the Thin Ice of the New Day.”

It’s fascinating, art as a medium to reach people and draw them into an important exchange of ideas.


Let’s keep it going.


Elm Leaf Inspires the SunGlacier Sculpture

The SunGlacier sculpture essentially finds its origins in the shape of a leaf. I chose this shape because a leaf is the very icon for the transformation of components — powered by the sun: photosynthesis. The SunGlacier leaf sculpture is designed for optimal strength in its asymmetrical aspects. Coincidence or not?  I didn’t even realize that I imitated Mother Nature’s work by designing a leaf that closely resembles the leaf of an elm tree.  

An organizer of an annual festival in Amsterdam, Springsnow,recently contacted me after he noticed the shape design of SunGlacier. In early spring, the canals of the city turn green, and many people think that spring has begun. Well, this may and may not be true… The green color is not from the reflection of overhead leaves, but from the small blossoms of the elm tree, one of the only trees that grow along the canals.  Even UNESCO World Heritage views the elm as an important part of the typical canal architecture.    

 photo by Jolien Glaudemans

As the elm trees lose their blossoms, it seems to starts to snow. Here’s another parallel element of the SunGlacier project design: the warmer the weather, the more ice produced.

Find more info at: 
or enjoy the Amsterdam Elm Walk (press on fat link)

Birth of Urban Chameleons

Crawling on walls and attached in such a way that they seem stuck against the vertical surface  the first four epoxy-based sculptures of animals with human facial characteristics are now alive. Their color blends in with the urban surroundings to create a subtle but living presence that becomes clear after looking at them for a brief second.

Quiet white animals on white walls, they appear to crawl in various directions in search of their own living space. 

Non-symmetrical forms imply motion, while still frozen onto a vertical surface inside a house. Together like humans, they prefer not to be alone but function better in their small groups – crawling, searching.

The others of their species are now taking shape in my studio.  These new chameleon sculptures will be ready to find their place on the wall within the coming weeks.  And also like humans, this family of white animals is reaching the limits of space in their current residential environment; they plan to occupy a gallery or museum as soon as they find their way there.

All are welcome to keep up with this new series as they grow from inspiration, to materials, to construction, to a future exhibition. I hope they crawl into imaginations, and intrigue others the way that they have me.

Camouflaged Sculptures and Events

My in-progress sculpture series, Urban Chameleons, features white animal-like sculptures on white walls, stuck like tree frogs on high surfaces. These Urban Chameleons found their inspiration on a trip to the jungles of Costa Rica. You sometimes need to look very closely to see the beauty of nature, because many animals are well camouflaged.

During this trip I asked myself: How many creatures are never discovered because we can’t see them? This is my inspiration, to make a series of sculptures that are camouflaged in our urban settings- spectacular huge sculptures that crawl on the walls, hiding, but also waiting to be discovered. The animals also have human features that signal that we ourselves are also part of nature and part of the delicate balance in our environment.  I intend to have an exhibit later this year of these Urban Chameleons. There will be updates on the location when the remaining sculptures are finished.

Also, SunGlacier project developments are taking place, but the entire story is just a bit too premature to publish at this moment.  It’s actually an exciting time and we plan to announce some interesting news soon. Keep looking closely, because the project has potential to shift shortly into the next gear. 

Urban Chameleons under construction

Visiting Christo

Ap and Christo

There are other people on this planet who dare to think about The Impossible. I had the pleasure of meeting one of my favorite such people last weekend, the artist Christo, and discussing with his team the challenges and possibilities of large, innovative art projects.

Christo’s “Big Air Package” was unveiled in Oberhausen, Germany, last Friday. The exhibit features the world’s largest balloon without support, and is wrapped by the artist.  As one walks inside the balloon, all perspective disappears. Simultaneous feelings of loneliness and joy can easily take hold of emotions while in the vast white balloon interior. Visitors in the balloon are enveloped in an ocean of light, and the feeling is on a scale of the intensity of new impressions that are experienced in childhood.

Inside the “Big Air Package”

At one point, I felt like I was not only standing inside the world’s largest balloon, but also before the world’s largest mirror looking at my own path. I left Big Air, but carried away inspiration from an accomplished fellow artist who also has dreamed and realized the impossible.

Ap and Jonathan, Christo’s manager

The Big Air Package from the outside
An ocean of light

Interview with Christo’s film crew
Lunch with the Christo team 

Follow These Kids to World Water Day

The United Nations World Water Day is coming up this Friday, March 22, and children at schools in The Hague have already started carrying their weight in support of the event, literally, with the Walking for Water fundraiser.  

Students from years 5 and 6 at the International School of The Hague (ISH) sought sponsors and then walked a six-kilometer trek through the nearby coastal dunes. They each carried six heavy liters of bottled water in a blue backpack as they raised money to benefit a clean-water program in Bangladesh.

Clean running water may be taken for granted when living in countries like the Netherlands, so this event was organized together with the Max Foundation to help students experience what it’s like to carry water supplies home in countries without enough adequate water facilities.  “It was tiring and also felt good to do this, but it was a bit sad that some people need to do this every day,” said Adam, 10, student at the ISH. 

Adam, center, with his ISH class
The Walking for Water event began in 2003, and proceeds from the ISH this year will go to help build a sanitation complex for safe drinking water and clean toilet facilities for children and families in Bangladesh. Classes at the school alone raised €5,000, and then the total rose to €18,000 after matching contributions from the government and the Delftland Water Board.

SunGlacier Ambassador to Build Water Interest

By Matt Luna, SunGlacier

An artist can find inspiration in places where science is afraid to go, just as the freshness of young people’s approach to solving environmental problems can lead to solutions that require more courage to even consider. A program in the Netherlands is targeting young mainly technical professionals – and using an artist – to increase interest in water sector careers and help ensure enough human resources to combat future dilemmas in world water issues.

The National Water Traineeship brings together new university graduates working for government agencies and private organizations in the water sector, and provides them with opportunities over the two-year course to work with other newcomers in their field. The trainees build leadership and project management skills as they work across organizations to find solutions to water issues in the country and around the world.

One recent joint project aimed to find a way to increase the flow of usable water in Senegal. The trainee team designed a proposal to construct polders regulating water flow, and then developed communications for the local population to learn how to use the system. Exercises like this can provide practical experience, build professional networks, and ultimately contribute to the overall future success of organizations of the water sector. With a projected shortage of 20,000 professionals working in the water sector by 2020, it’s easy to see the importance of this program.

Enter the artist. 
Ap Verheggen accepted an invitation this week to become an ambassador for the traineeship program. “We asked Ap to become an ambassador because he has a positive, different way of looking for solutions to problems, as he has demonstrated with the creation of his SunGlacier project,” said Naomi Timmer, Deputy Project Leader for the traineeship. As a program ambassador, Ap will spend time with the young members to help open their minds to think of innovative approaches that can be refined through research and then implemented for real-world tests. “We want the trainees to be able to dream to change the world – to be able to believe in the unbelievable – in finding real solutions to help people,” Naomi said.

 “It’s an honor to be asked to become an ambassador for such a bright initiative as this water traineeship,” said Ap, “The program is already successful, and after seeing the people involved who are coming from senior advising positions in the government and other organizations, it’s convincing that the support is there.” Ap also likes the idea of even more young people combining their ideas and energy. “They are working on their projects, and I will try to inspire them by telling them how I deal with my projects – not only out of the box, but out of this world.” said Ap.

Naomi also emphasized Ap’s potential of attracting more interest to the water-sector technical field: “Ap is a great communicator and can get across a message in unique ways to draw more attention to the purpose. He’s a great person to have on the team.”

Photo from left: Raimond Hafkenscheid (advisor), Ap Verheggen (ambassador), Naomi Timmer (deputy project leader), Gerard Doornbos (ambassador), Helen van Zundert (project leader), Sven Asijee (ambassador) Jaap Feil (director) Not shown in photo: Sybe Schaap (ambassador)

Visit to learn more about the program.

Trying to Think in Extremes

Photo by Matt Luna

Here in the Netherlands, we are still a long way from the Middle East desert in terms of climate and distance, but this week has seen some record high temperatures. The first week of March normally averages a high of 7 Celsius, or about 46 F, but reports last Tuesday of up to 17 C made it the warmest Dutch March 5th on record.

Mother Nature’s mood swings are getting wilder, and the forecast next week calls for very low “high” temperatures down to 0 C and snow. With weather norms slipping out the window, it’s becoming more difficult to predict exactly what kind of climate we’ll be living in even in the relatively near future.

Exceptional conditions can lead to exceptional thinking about adaptation– even on a simple, personal level: packing sunscreen and scarfs in the same weekend backpack (away from the ski slopes), making Bermuda shorts from wool, equipping a swimming pool in the same month for both aquatics and ice hockey, making ice in a desert…and so on. This unusual thinking also applies to the search for energy. Who knows? Maybe there’s a way to float a kite-type device into the atmosphere to harness energy from the passing space rocks that seem to be coming our way more frequently.

But seriously, try to think beyond the extremes in order to begin believing in the unbelievable, and see where it takes us.

A Week in a Suit

It was an honor to meet Ghunaim S. Alghunaim and Thani S. Al Anizi from Saudi Arabia during meetings and presentations this week to demonstrate more about project SunGlacier. I realized that if you actually live in a country covered with deserts, it is even harder to believe in making a glacier in that landscape – to believe in the impossible –  especially if you experience the world’s most extreme conditions around you on a daily basis. They know how it feels when the wind is blowing with temperatures of 50 degrees Celsius. (122F)  

(L to R) Mr. Alghunaim, Ap Verheggen, Mr. Al Anizi, in attendance of Mr. Alharbi (Aramco Overseas)
photo by Jerzy Frigge

A couple of years ago I travaled through some deserts in the United Arab Emirates and noticed that there was a sort of similarity with my expeditions through the Arctic: A hostile environment for humans, so quiet that you hear your own heart beat above the song of the wind. It’s nearly impossible for me to imagine how cultures adapted and survived in these conditions in ancient times. Fascinating!   

Water-related issues and training people how to manage water is the main subject of UNESCO-IHE. This week I also met with András Szöllösi-Nagy, rector of the institute and Governor of the World Water Council. A meeting between an artist and somebody with the position of András often results in a hurricane of energy and new ideas how to stretch borders on a creative way. It means a lot to me to get support from a good friend.

Feeding Solar Ideas

It was encouraging to take part in discussions this week on how solar energy technology can evolve to remain a relevant energy solution for the future.  The International Trade Fair for Solar Energy in the Benelux held in Ghent, Belgium, provided a welcome opportunity for professionals active in solar technology to come together to make contacts to help propel their businesses. A number of smaller solar technology companies have disappeared in the recent years of financial crisis, but the larger ones that remain are looking to collectively fuel their search for the most effective ways to develop and deliver this energy to consumers.

This is needed because there remains a large gap in the present capabilities of solar technology and its ability to deliver widely-used practical applications that can meet larger portions of the world’s energy needs. And in order to keep moving solar power forward as a practical energy source, we need creative solutions to overcome barriers that keep this resource out of the hands of larger percentages of energy users.

Take for instance, a very basic approach that is not so much evolving solar technology itself, but adapting how we use energy that is now available.  Changes in appliance technology (such as lighting, heating and cooling) to work on a non-constant energy supply can bring us a step closer. Reliance on traditional battery technology will become outdated as it is wasteful in comparison to other options, and energy is lost.
One of several bright spots at the trade fair discussions was how technology for “energy islands” is becoming more of a reality. Energy islands are completely self-supporting facilities that are not connected to existing energy networks.  They are able to produce electricity on demand to meet needs of public and private installations such as hospitals, farms and family homes. Developments like this can give everyone more food for thought.

Your “bright” ideas?  Readers are invited in the comment section to leave any related information, opinions, links or just plain wild ideas that could inspire others to think and work creatively on solar technology.  After all, solar power is at the heart of SunGlacier, and a major aim of our project is to inspire thoughts, discussions and collaborations that can lead to tangible solutions in adapting to our changing environment.

SunGlacier in the next dimension

For the first time we are in discussion with a serious partner who is interested in the complete realisation of the SunGlacier Art Project. Therefore our highly motivated team is now working on the transfer of our technical testing data into a scientific report and defining the technical borders of our prototype ( scale 1:5 ) Next to that we designed a system that uses the not constant input of solar generated energy into a system that follows the sun as closely as possible. This may indeed prove to be a unique feature of engineering. ( see chapter prototype below )


Armed with the results of the ice-production tests the SunGlacier team is currently in the throws of designing a prototype of the sculpture scaled down to an approximate 1 to 5 ratio in size. 
The purpose of that installation is:

        to demonstrate to prospective partners that the SunGlacier proposition of linking sun to ice is indeed feasible, both artistically and technically and also
        to create a firm basis for the engineering of the full scale model that would recognize and meet the prevailing challenges.

The most crucial of these challenges is:
– to move from the controlled environment of the test container to the essentially un-controlled conditions of open-air ice production. In other words, to try the test results in practice. Another challenge for the team is to string all elements of the sculpture, from solar cells to ice-carrying surfaces together into one autonomous and operationally robust installation. Once there, the next challenge is

– to maximize the use of the energy beamed in by the sun at any given time of the day and convert that along this string of elements in the most efficient manner to ”cold” at the workface.

In the course of any day in the life of SunGlacier the ideal clear-sky solar energy curve could be distorted by cloud cover or haze and the ideal curve itself will change in any event, with the seasons. SunGlacier has set itself the task of finding the tightest link between sun and ice and design a process control system that follows the sun as closely as possible. This may indeed prove to be a unique feature of engineering.

Once the prototype is operational, the artist will have the opportunity, together with prospective partners to evaluate the artistic aspect of SunGlacier and the effect it would have on its beholders.

Thus, the prototype is both a demonstration vehicle and a learning device for the SunGlacier team and to that end will be designed with flexibility and equipped with all measurement devices and instrumentation necessary to play those roles. Departing from a successful prototype platform the next step to full scale realization of SunGlacier should be well-controlled and technically low-risk.