Antarctic Edge: 70° SouthAntarctic expedition uncovers more evidence of climate change in this modest but opinionated documentary.
Eager to take sides, Antarctic Edge: 70º South uses a 2013 expedition to document how the climate on and around Antarctica has changed due to rising temperatures. But the movie's important points and fascinating settings may not be enough to win over viewers unconvinced about climate change.
Producer-director and Dena Seidel front-loads the documentary with deliberately provocative statements, such as melting ice around Antarctica being "unstoppable." The movie then draws a direct connection between polar warming and severe weather events like Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in 2013; Ganges River floods in India in 2013; Tropical Storm Isaac in Haiti in 2012; and Hurricane Sandy in 2012.
Antarctic Edge then settles into a straightforward account of the 2013 expedition, part of the Palmer Antarctica Long Term Ecological Research Project. One problem Seidel faces is that these experiments and research never match the intensity and drama of the opening weather disasters. Plus, Antarctica is a place of such austere, otherworldly beauty that it's difficult for viewers to comprehend the damage being done to the environment.
Seidel compensates for this by having scientists on the expedition repeat the same points over and over. If the warming continues, Adélie penguins will stop breeding and die out. Krill will change its feeding patterns, affecting the whales who eat it. Invasive species will gain new strongholds.
Working from an icebreaker, expedition members check penguin-breeding colonies near Palmer Station and on Charcot Island, a remote, dangerous location at 70 degrees south latitude. Other scientists riding on Zodiac boats follow migrating whales. A third group uses nets trolling from the icebreaker to plot krill and plankton in a grid measuring the size of Oklahoma.
"We have an overwhelming sampling problem," notes Oscar Schofield, a biological oceanographer who gets the most screen time. Not only do scientists have too much area to cover, but their findings take years to process. The Palmer Antarctica Long Term Ecological Research Project is entering its third decade. Jennifer Mannas, a wildlife ecologist, says results for her work with penguins will take "another ten or twenty years."
Schofield points out that the polar environment has changed in his lifetime. The "sea ice" season has shrunk by three months, directly affecting penguin feeding habits. Hugh Ducklow, lead principal investigator of the Palmer Antarctica Long Term Ecological Research Project, wonders "why America as a civilization won't wake up and take climate change seriously."
The other scientists tend to be less confrontational and more prone to wisecracks and hijinks. They dilute points scored earlier in the movie, as do interludes with crew members and research assistants.
Antarctic Edge: 70º South uses beautiful landscapes and low-key, unassuming scientists to present an urgent message with terrible consequences. Those who already worry about climate change will find their fears reinforced. Climate deniers will most likely need stronger hectoring to be persuaded.
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