Unearthing the story of climate science

In celebration of Earth Day, environmentalists, government officials and students recently trooped to the preview of the documentary film ''Thin Ice'' in SM Megamall to watch a group of climate scientists as they embark on a quest to understand the planet's climate.

The 73-minute docu film is about geologist's Simon Lamb's journey across the globe as he follows a community of scientist-researchers from a wide range of disciplines in their struggle to unravel the relationship between increased carbon dioxide levels and rising temperatures.

''By watching the film, you not only find out what the scientists think, you also see for yourself the research being carried out, whether it be on the polar plateau in Antarctica, at -40°C, or in a storm on the Southern Ocean, or back in the laboratory,'' said Lamb's fellow producer David Sington.


The film begins with a toddler reading a book, seeing the predicted effects of climate change. The camera then shifts to the world's most icy places.

Thin Ice reports that Antarctica and the Arctic are among the scientists' most common indicators of global warming, as snow and ice are exceptionally good recorders of local climate. The snow particle's chemical build-up records the air temperature of the time it was formed, and every year, a new snow layer is formed, burying the previous year's snow. The deeper layers are compressed into ice.

In the film, climate scientists were also shown measuring atmosphere composition at Baring Head, New Zealand. For the past 40 years, the Baring Head station is precisely recording the composition of the planet's cleanest air, blowing from Antarctica and the Southern Ocean.

At the time of the filming in 2008, carbon dioxide concentration was around 385 ppm (parts per million), increasing at a rate of 2 ppm per year. However, oxygen concentration in the atmosphere was gradually decreasing-attributed to widespread burning of fossil fuels. But one barely noticed this because oxygen concentration was close to 20 percent, compared to that of carbon dioxide, with just 0.03 percent.

The film then explained why global temperatures are very sensitive to greenhouse gas emissions. For every kilometer higher in the atmosphere, temperature decreases by about 6°C, controlled by the rising and sinking of the main components of the atmosphere, namely, nitrogen, oxygen, and water vapor.

Some scientists then pointed out that in the last thousand years, the 17th century was the warmest, and the 20th century was the coldest. An earth simulator shows that temperatures began to rise in the 1920s, then with a slight cooling from the 1950s to the 1970s, but sharp warming ensued afterwards.

Marine biologist Niki Davey who toured the Southern Ocean, says that the oceans absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, either through direct mixing of ocean water and air, or through the natural growth of aquatic algae.

There were some 40 scientists in the film that explained their respective findings on climate change. Some of them include atmospheric physicist Myles Allen, geologist Cliff Atkins, oceanographer Wallace Broecker, paleoclimatologist Dan Dixon, and ecologist Katie Dugger.


British Embassy Deputy Ambassador Trevor Lewis observed that unlike other climate science documentaries, ''Thin Ice'' presents science in layman's terms by showing breathtaking visuals so viewers could see for themselves.

''In many cases, people (tend to be) more skeptical about the science-they're not sure whether the science really ends up. It's really interesting to me when you look into the film, it went from New Zealand to England, to America and Germany... and the people you see are of different nationalities... (This) is a clear indication that this problem is being tackled by many different scientists from different parts of the world,'' Lewis said.

Meanwhile, Dr. Tabassam Raza of the University of the Philippines Diliman thinks that the documentary which caters to a wide range of audiences, can be an effective medium to teach climate science in various schools.

''Thin Ice'' is a joint initiative of Oxford University, United Kingdom, Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, and London-based DOX Productions. Its Philippine screening was sponsored by the British Embassy, New Zealand Embassy, Philippine Climate Change Commission, and SM Cares.

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