Thin Ice: what polar science is telling us about climate

By Gareth Renowden 30/06/2014

This guest post is by professor Peter Barrett, executive producer, and Suze Keith, marketing advisor for Thin Ice.

Scientists can tell human stories about climate change, and a group of us have been working on just that for the last few years. We’ve produced a film — Thin Ice – the inside story of climate change — which follows a scientist, geologist and camera buff Simon Lamb, who is concerned at the flak his climate science colleagues have been taking.

Simon travels from the Antarctic to the Arctic. He listens to scientists talk about their work, hopes and fears, and discovers how the astonishing range of research really does fit together. By the end there are just two messages – that our ultimate goal should be zero carbon emissions (in line with the latest IPCC report), and that science really does work. As paleoclimatologist Dave Harwood says to young people at the end of the film:

Don’t be scared by this thing. Come and join in our effort. Be the best scientists and engineers you can, and we’ll deal with it.

But does the film work? You be the judge and let us know (add your comments below). Reports from the global launch last April (200 sites world-wide) were enthusiastic. As film distributor Green Planet Films CEO Suzanne Harle says:

I love this film. It’s like a one-to-one chat with the scientists. They do come to an alarming conclusion, but at least you can see why, and what has to be done to deal with it.

It’s also working with community groups and schools. Terry Burrell, leader of the science team from Wellington’s Onslow College, screened the film in a 5 week course on climate change involving both science and social studies for Year 10 students. “Many students before watching the film saw it simply as something people had opinions about. Thin Ice explains the science so clearly.” Terry will running a workshop on the film and course at the NZ science educators conference next month.

Others find the film useful because of questions it raises, such as who you trust for reliable information, and of course how can we reduce carbon emissions.

Thin Ice is a David Sington/Simon Lamb film, and a collaboration between Oxford University, Victoria University of Wellington, and DOX Productions, London. The film is available with subtitles in 6 languages by streaming, download or DVD to individuals from, and to educational institutions and community groups through

The website also supports over 30 free video shorts, which explore climate science topics further, and provides background information on the scientists. As an example, here’s VUW’s Tim Naish (and others) discussing the Andrill seabed core and what it tells us about the stability of the West Antarctic ice sheet: