Ice Alive: An audiovisual exploration of the Greenland Ice Sheet


As an Arctic scientist I am privileged to be able to explore the coldest parts of our planet, making observations and measurements and helping others to understand how these areas function by writing papers and giving talks, lectures and writing for magazines and newspapers. But to truly understand an environment, we must also explore the intangible and immeasurable. To communicate it to diverse audiences, we must use not only facts and observations, but aesthetics and emotion. The piece above is a bridge connecting music and science – an effort to understand and communicate the hidden beauty, complexity and sensitivity of the Greenland Ice Sheet through sound. I hope that projects like this will bring new audiences to Arctic science, using music, art and aesthetics to pique their curiosity.

This project arose from a chance encounter in 2017. I was a guest on Radio 4’s Midweek program, along with musician Hannah Peel. As I listened to her explain her art on air, and later listening to her music, especially the new album, ‘Mary Casio’, I was struck by the depth of thought and analysis underpinning her work. I reached out to see if she would be interested in applying the same process to exploring the changing Arctic.

To my surprise and delight, Hannah agreed to make a new composition. We chatted about Arctic science – ice sheet dynamics, albedo feedbacks and microbiology in particular, and I provided footage and images from our field sites in Greenland and Svalbard. Hannah then went away and composed a piece of music inspired by the intricate processes, nested feedbacks and hidden complexity of this environment. I then cut the music to drone footage I filmed on site in 2017. I am overjoyed with the result, because I think Hannah’s music communicates perfectly the almost paradoxical sense of grandeur and intricacy, power and vulnerability of the ice.

Explore more of Hannah’s amazing music here

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