Operation Iceberg: Balancing risks

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It's safe to say that making Operation Iceberg was not easy. And because of the scale of the expedition if things went awry... they could really go awry.

Operation Iceberg is a two part series on - you've guessed it - icebergs.

Helicoptering in to plant a GPS tracker on a huge ice pinnacle

It's an interesting mixture of science and adventure with Chris Packham and Helen Czerski as the two lead presenters, ably assisted by Andy Torbet and Chris van Tulleken.

For each programme we had a gaggle of ice scientists who were willing to invest their time and expertise. We also had two film crews and a small production team - including me, the series producer.

Programme one is all about the birth of icebergs and based at a glacier in Greenland.

You'll see we had a little sailing boat right in front of the massive Store Glacier when huge tower block chunks of ice began falling off into the sea.

You can also watch a scientist leaping out of a hovering helicopter to plant a GPS at the very top of a 100m ice pinnacle.

The second episode is about an iceberg's life and death out at sea and was filmed on a huge tabular iceberg off the coast of Canada.

On the iceberg itself we had more polar bears than you could shake a stick at.

And at one point we were all on the iceberg when a large crack started to form across its surface and chunks of ice began breaking away just metres from where we were standing.

A wall of ice splits from a glacier: the birth of a new iceberg

There was a real risk that this newly created chunk of ice would flip over taking the ship with it.

Quite frankly, there were many times during the expedition when I wished that someone else was making the series.

Not surprisingly we also had a sizeable safety team who were kept very busy. One of the most interesting things I discovered was how intelligent, rational people can have such differing attitudes to safety.

Take the polar bears. I had never seen one in the wild before and it was one of the most thrilling moments of my life to see one swimming by our ship.

And then we saw another. And another. And another.

It was soon very clear that the presence of all these polar bears would severely limit what we could do. They are the largest land predator on earth and have been known to attack and kill people.

Whenever we ventured onto the ice the bears would come to take a peep at us.

Chris Packham and Doug Allan, who have had considerable experience of them, were largely unperturbed.

In the space of just half an hour the team see three polar bears - it's beartastic

They felt they could interpret the bears' behaviour and would have let them come quite close before retreating. Other people on the team were very frightened of them. And for good reason.

So one of my main jobs was persuading Chris and Doug that although in the past they'd been right next to bears, because we were now such a large team we had to be more cautious.

Simultaneously I was trying to persuade other people to actually leave the ship and go out on the ice at all.

So my job was really to try to reach a sensible middle line whereby we could still film what we needed and all come back in one piece.

After all these incidents and drama, the grand total of injuries consisted merely of a large number of mosquito bites and a small cut to the forehead.

Not bad given the things that could have happened. And now the expedition is all over I'm extremely glad I did do it. One of the most exciting adventures of my life.

Andrew Thompson is the series producer on Operation Iceberg.

Operation Iceberg starts on Tuesday, 30 October at 9pm on BBC Two and BBC HD. For further programme times, please see the episode guide.

More on Operation Iceberg
Read the crew's production diaries.
See the team's photos on Flickr.
BBC News: Iceberg breaks off from Greenland's Petermann glacier.
BBC News: Who, What, Why: How do you track an iceberg?
Read the British Antarctic Survey blog about making the series.

Andrew's byline photo is courtesy of Chris Packham.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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