TV nature documentary director Lars Ostenfeld makes the jump into film with Into the Ice, a beautiful, gripping and ultimately terrifying journey into the impacts of climate change on the Greenland ice sheet. Ostenfeld captures nature in all its sublime grandeur and the film’s figures are compellingly driven in their quest for understanding, but the conclusions they reach are deeply worrying.
Have we gone past the point of no return? This question still remains unspoken in public life, but it seems that more of us are beginning to ask it in private. All but the most stubborn deniers of reality now accept that anthropogenic climate change is real, that its effects are serious and that we must act now if we are to avoid apocalypse-level catastrophe. In the face of paralysing despair, scientists continued efforts bring new insights into the nature and rapidity of the coming storm in the hope that society will finally wake up to the crisis.
Three such scientists are Jason Box, Alun Hubbard, and Dorthe Dahl-Jensen who are investigating the movement of the vast Greenland ice sheet. During the summer months, surface snow melts and cuts through the sheet, forming temporary rivers that make their way through and under the ice, lubricating it as it moves along the ground and towards the oceans. This is a natural process but it has accelerated in recent decades, contributing to rising sea levels as the sheet breaks apart. Worse still, temperatures are now so warm year round that the water table underneath the sheet may not be freezing during winter, further accelerating the ice’s movement.
Of the three scientists, Into the Ice focuses on Box and Hubbard who have the more exciting and cinematic task of actually going out on to the ice and sometimes traversing deep under its surface. Meanwhile, Dahl-Jensen is left to drier analysis; it’s a shame that the film takes less care to underline the importance of her work in this story in favour of the boys’ adventuring. Nevertheless, when Hubbard descends into the belly of a vast, cathedral-like ice cave, the power of actually seeing the liquid water underneath his feet – and understanding what that means – is hard to deny.
That meaning – the total destruction of global coastal areas, cascading crises, mass death and untold suffering is beyond sobering. Gorgeous vistas aside, Ostenfeld’s documentary is fairly by the numbers, but when the numbers are this serious, does it really need to be anything else?