« Previous | Main | Next »

Operation Iceberg: Balancing risks

Post categories:

Andrew Thompson Andrew Thompson | 16:30 UK time, Monday, 29 October 2012

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.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

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.

In order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

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 order to see this content you need to have both Javascript enabled and Flash installed. Visit BBC Webwise for full instructions

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.


  • Comment number 1.

    There's also a live chat with the presenters and some of the team during and after both episodes on Tuesday and Thursday.

    Go here to log in then:


  • Comment number 2.

    I went to make a cup of tea before the programme, it was very dangerous, I could have died at any moment. Then I sat on my sofa, nobody knew when it might spontaneously combust, I was taking a huge risk. Ironically, I survived all that only to be patronised to death. Why do you treat viewers with such contempt? If you talk to us like idiots then it only serves to illuminate your opinion of us. Nice pictures mind.

  • Comment number 3.

    I was looking forward to this but switched off after 20 mins. The voice over drove me mad. Why do we always have to have "if he slips he will fall 100 metres", or "one mistake and they could all die" all the time. It obviously didn't happen or we wouldn't be watching it. Please stop these "they could all die" or "it could all go horribly wrong" voice overs. Just let us watch it!!

  • Comment number 4.

    Beautiful landscapes and photography but the commentary was cringe-making as was some of the presenting. Wish the BBC didn't feel it has to make nature programs into light entertainment. The animals and landscapes can speak for themselves. If I watch again it will be with the sound done!

  • Comment number 5.

    I'm obviously risking irreversible RSI typing this and furthermore I'm perched precariously on quite a high lab stool, but no sacrifice is too great in providing my unprecedented feedback to the, eh, 'key talent' responsible for this nonsense. Sorry - redact 'nonsense' & replace with 'landmark scientific study of the marine calving mechanisms of glaciers that just happens to have been filmed in HD'. Sorry again - before I carry on I need to select some suitably dramatic & portentous music to type by. There, that's better, a nice bit of Justin Bieber always helps to lubricate the thought-calving process.... No doubt a bit of proper science can be done by proper scientists in 3 weeks, but does the BBC truly expect us to fall for the line that what we're watching is real science in action? Icebergs bigger than Broadcasting House, helicopters, polar bears, youngish female physicist, Chris Packham in crampons - what's not to like? A few interesting facts will no doubt calve off, but ultimately it's another great BBC Nature Porn romp. Which is fine, no scientific fig-leaf required, oh and neither is the music, ridiculous ice-cracking sound effects & the commentary that makes a trailor-voiceover for a Hollywood disaster movie sound like Alan Bennett. Anyone for a proper survey of the latest research into the Greenland ice sheet by the nice bods at Horizon?

  • Comment number 6.

    I usually love nature programmes but I'm afraid this was a bit OTT for me. It was a kind of Hollwood action-adventure take on a nature programme where the presenters seemed to be trying to be the stars at the expense of the wonderful nature surrounding them. I watch programmes like these to have a break from all that in your face stuff. Sorry BBC

  • Comment number 7.

    Strangely, having read the comments from others I sort of agree.......If I was so up my own.. intelligence! ok voice overs, obvious or condescending statements, but hey this was excellent, for those of a critical nature, remember its not just for you luvey`s...I took from this a wonderful experience, the return to stuff I experienced many years ago, and found it quite easy to edit out the sound over`s and condescension, because it wasn't meant for me! it was meant for every one!
    Well Bloody Done

  • Comment number 8.

    Oh and Andrew, your audience is the 92% that never made it to grammar school, so you did well...x

  • Comment number 9.

    For all the commentators who believe that the programme took the 'risk' element and emphasised it to extreme - would YOU have jumped out of that helicopter onto an iceberg that was clearly hours/days away from calving? Too easy, when you're sat on your ultra-safe sofa (or lab stool), to criticise the emotions that actually being there would have produced. IF they failed in their task then it was as a result of not accurately expressing the risks; it WASN'T for making them sound worse than they really were.

  • Comment number 10.

    I don't understand people who feel so patronised by television shows they feel the need to spend time complaing about it on the internet. I didn't feel patronised, and now you're comments are making me feel like I'm stupid. You should turn it off and do something less patronising to you - like reading a scientific journal - far more detail there and much less music. You can find them on the internet instead of griping on a forum.

    Andrew, I found both programmes wonderful. The first one was a thrill ride. The second one was captivating and spellbinding.

  • Comment number 11.

    I can see how for some people the commentary came across as hyped up, but it's easy to sit in the comfort of home and fail to grasp the raw excitement of the situation, the danger (and sometimes the fear), that even the most adventurous, experienced and level-headed person can feel when faced with the reality of unpredictable ice and wild life at close quarters. It's the commentator's job to get that across to the audience, the majority of whom have never been near an iceberg.

    I've spent a little time around ice, both in the Arctic and in Antarctica, during my youth. I've been perhaps 200 yards from a polar bear (I was safe on a boat) and had some wonderful adventures I will never forget, all supervised in relative safety by dedicated personnel like those involved in bringing us these two magnificent programmes.

    I applauded the ship's captain for his caution and was on the edge of my seat at times tonight, sometimes ahead of the commentator in realising the potential danger they were in. Until you'e been on an icebreaker at sea, felt invincible on the approach and then heard that crunch, grind and bang as you collide with the pack ice (let alone an iceberg), don't knock the commentary. It brought back memories of my own (extremely tame by comparison) trips and I thought the BBC did a fabulous job to bring us this sort of footage at all. Well done BBC and thank you.
    ps. More of the same please!

  • Comment number 12.

    I was thoroughly enthralled by both programmes...and how timely as we watch the Arctic sea ice melt more this summer than ever before in recent times..Thank you.

  • Comment number 13.

    In Sept 2009 I took at expedition with GAP to the east coast of Greenland which I saw first hand the collapse and birth of these amazing icebergs. I hope to return again very soon. Well done on this series an every one involved.

  • Comment number 14.

    Wonderful photography but thats about it. Experiments that were largely pointless and nothing groundbreaking whatsoever. All in all a disappointment and a poor return for what must have been a huge budget.

  • Comment number 15.

    Thought the programme good in a rather superficial way. When the tech balls did not show why was the dye not brought into play. I would have thought that this would have flowed better and come up in perhaps a number of places whereas the balls could have been trapped. Also re the balls, if they were so hi tech why did they not have some sort of tracking device so they could have been at least seen to have been lost. I did not feel patronised as it is an area that even though I have a modicum of knowledge I am not an expert. Much of the programme however did reiterate things which have been seen before. Intrigued by the undercut in prog 1 rather new but do not understand why the moment that the undercut occurs the above ice does not drop to take the place of the space. I understand that the ice is bound together but if there is such a big undercut then why does the collapse not occur immediately?? Ah well pretty good prog all in all and nice to have something that is not Attenbrough and is full of younger enthusiasts instead.

  • Comment number 16.

    hey dude in the life and Death of a Berg just before the ice berg is cracking, the guy is downloading data into his Macbook Pro he's using a case to carry his Macbook pro. What case is he using ? Please could you let me know ?Thanks p.s awesome series keep up the great work!

  • Comment number 17.

    This was a marvellous science programme. Well done BBC for teaming up with scientists at the cutting edge who were intent on carrying out their research in such an inhospitable environment. I thoroughly enjoyed having a window into the moment when the scientists began to understand a mechanism that was previously unknown (even if it was suspected). I am a bit bemused by the people who seemed to think they watched a disappointing nature programme. I watched a science programme in which I learnt genuinely new things that probably haven't made it into much published work yet. I don't bother with TV much but I'm glad I tuned in for this one.

  • Comment number 18.

    Excellent program.
    However the facts regarding the iceberg having nine tenths of its size underwater is WRONG.
    I'm very surprised the BBC got this simple fact wrong.

  • Comment number 19.

    There is precious little of this type of programming on the air and many of the negative, somewhat nit-picky comments here seem both harsh and unhelpful to me, especially taking this into account. This was a rare type of documentary with some excellent content, and I for one want to add my voice to those applauding the BBC for airing it and going some way towards highlighting the big issues at the heart of the study.

    If anything, I only wish it was given a longer run, as I got the impression there was much more footage that didn't make the final programme. Here's hoping for a DVD release with some of that additional material made available, including some of the wonderful photography by Chris Packham and others showcased on the BBC website—I, for one, would snap it up! Wonderful television.

  • Comment number 20.

    I agree with Adam, and am disappointed by the snide comments of some of the others who have commented. It was good to see some serious glaciology presented in an acceptable way -- I was trained as a glacial geomorphologist, and I did not think the commentary demeaned the audience at all. OK-- it was prime time TV and both music and commentary had to be more portentious than was really warranted, but I thought there was a pretty good balance between science and entertainment. And the photography was stunning! Congratulations, BBC -- more like this please. The world of ice is AMAZING.....

  • Comment number 21.

    This was an excellent production - even with the safety-team on hand I believe there was some serious risk in some of the activities. Great filming and science. My only gripe is the commentary and sound which borrows too much from some action movie - but didn't spoil my enjoyment.
    I would love to have been there.

  • Comment number 22.

    Excellent programme! Well done BBC. I have a science background and have ice-climbed and crossed on glaciers in the Alps and Alaska, including canoeing up to one in Alaska - an experience I remember vividly from 20 years ago. I was very interested in the science and this programme really bought back to me and awesome beauty and dangers around glaciers. More science would have been good, and a had a few little quibbles but I think the mix of science and dramatism and beautiful imagery was great. Glaciers are truly scary places, constantly moving, creaking and collapsing, the dangers taken by the crew were very very real.

  • Comment number 23.

    What a fantastic piece of television, well done, 2 hrs of my life well spent enjoyed by the whole family. I think this crew could go on to other expeditions under the title "operation" I would certainly tune in. Look forward to the next installment and after all the viewing figures say it all.

  • Comment number 24.

    I enjoyed this 2 parter totally. Some very good Science mixed with adventure. I also want to thank R4 for having Helen Czerski on to talk about this show and helping me find it Well done BBC!

  • Comment number 25.

    Great programme.. wish I had caught it earlier but enjoyed it over Christmas. Someone in the comments mentioned that the data captured was useless- useless?? Really?

    Perhaps the actual level of threat and danger was not understood by some. This was really ground breaking stuff- really dangerous stuff at that! Although many of the results fall in line with what some of us expected in regards to Ice-flows this is the first definitive proof for many of those theories. Show some respect!

    Also: if only a small radio-tracker or more visible means of identification could have been used on the 'Cryo-spheres'! Would've been great data. I was about to suggest a simple LED light to identify them but ofc there is little or no darkness!

    Great job... almost as good as the second episode!


More from this blog...

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.