Earth Day – Thin Ice and the inside story of Climate Science

Earth Day, April 22nd, has been chosen as the day for the global launch of a new film on the science behind global environmental change ‘Thin Ice: the Inside Story of Climate Science‘.  This is an exciting project, as the filmmakers include Simon Lamb, who has had a successful career as an academic geologist at the University of Oxford, UK, and then at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand; and David Sington, an experienced filmmaker from DOX productions, who originally trained in Natural Sciences. Simon Lamb and David Sington have previously collaborated on a number of documentary films, most notably Earth Story, which was a fabulous documentary on the story of Planet Earth which first aired in the UK in 1998. I still use the accompanying book ‘Earth Story: The Forces that have Shaped our Planet‘ as one of the introductory readings for first year Earth Science students.

For the next 36 hours or so, you can watch Thin Ice live, and for free, online at http://thiniceclimate.org/watch-the-film.


Having had a chance to see a live screening of Thin Ice, here are my first impressions. ‘Thin Ice’ is a personal journey of discovery  for the filmmaker, Simon Lamb. He has the ambition of trying to understand what climate scientists do, and how they can be confident that global climate is changing. The result is a film that is visually attractive, and that captures in a charming and disarming way the way that science is done. Although there is a narrative, the story mainly unfolds as individual scientists tell the viewers a little bit about the questions they are trying to answer, and how they go about it – whether by collecting ancient samples of ice (bits of the ‘frozen history of climate’); or by rooting back through archives of past measurements of the weather; or by running computer simulations of past, present and future climate. The ‘laboratory’ shifts from snow pits in Antarctica and the heaving deck of a ship in the Southern Ocean, to the physics and computing laboratories of Potsdam and Oxford. This is not a film that really answers the question of why global warming is happening, but it is instead an account of how scientists gather the evidence to try and understand the workings of the climate system. Above all, it is a lovely film about science, by scientists.

David Pyle is a volcanologist, and Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Oxford. His first encounter with volcanoes was at the age of 7, when he visited Villarrica, Chile, shortly after an eruption. David studied geological sciences at the University of Cambridge, and later completed a PhD on the 'older' eruptions of Santorini, Greece. After a short post-doc at the California Institute of Technology, David returned to a lectureship in Cambridge. In 2006, he moved to his current post in Oxford. David tweets at @davidmpyle

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