Like a deadly lightning bolt made of treacle

Somebody clone Attenborough, quick — the British nature program must continue forever! His latest documentary is Frozen Planet, and all I’ve seen of it is short clips on youtube and various other sites…which just makes me want to see more.

Here is a time lapse video of a brinicle forming: a column of cold water descending from the surface which is saltier than the surrounding sea, so it both sinks and remains liquid as it oozes downward, but it freezes the less briny water around it. It’s slow, but if you’re a slow-moving echinoderm, it’s like the icy finger of a vindictive god reaching down to destroy you.

(Also on Sb)


  1. says

    This is so cool! Right now you’re sitting there putting this stuff up while I’m sitting here reading it. Also, I put this on my FaceBook page yesterday. I’m still winning, and the tiger’s blood is still pumping through this alien warlock’s veins!
    Whatever happened to Charlie Sheen anyway? Is HE still winning?

  2. Didaktylos says

    Not only is he the greatest natural history documenatarist ever, he pretty much invented serious factual television in general.

  3. says

    The brinicle *outrages* me. I hadn’t realised that such things existed, let alone that they were basically starfish death rays. I’m simultaneously delighted and outraged that there are such things. Mostly delighted.

    That bit of film is exactly why we pay our license fee to the BBC. Can’t it stop fucking about with reality shows now?

  4. Craig says

    Attenborough is one of the few things about britain im actually proud of. hes the main reason i grew up atheist

  5. Dunc says

    Not only is he the greatest natural history documenatarist ever, he pretty much invented serious factual television in general.

    And alternative comedy! He was absolutely foundational in the setting up of BBC2, without which we’d never have had Monty Python and so many other fantastic and hugely influential programs. It really is difficult to overestimate his positive influence on television – truly a national treasure! As is the BBC Natural History Unit of course… I mean, how many other TV producers have actually made serious and significant contributions to the advancement of science whilst also making fantastically enjoyable and educational programs?

    I love the BBC. :)

  6. Gareth says

    @bric I was just about to write and ask for confirmation of that as I had read that it was the case elsewhere. It really is quite unbelievable that there should be censorship of science like that in America. With all the misinformation and downright lying there is in the right-wing media, to have someone as respected as Attenborough silenced is so fucking sad and shocking.

  7. katjo says

    Attenborough is one of the reasons that I got into science in the first place – I read his ‘Zoo Quest’ books over and over as a kid.

    I have watched all of his documentaries, and I love them all – but this most recent one is the best I think. Not just the ‘brinicle’, but the wolf hunts, the killer whales, the male Emperor Penguins shuffling through the winter night for months without food while balancing an egg on their feet. All of it amazing, with such astounding photography.

  8. says

    The show is magnificent. Particularly enjoying the last ten minutes ‘Freeze Frame’ section, where they follow the crew and how they got to and filmed certain events. Absolutely breathtaking – astonishing bravery/stupidity, would love to camera op on a project like FP.

    Throughout the hour, I do keep, literally, watching with my mouth agape.

  9. Dubliner says

    I watched David Attenborough on Horizon on BBC4 last night. An excellent if somewhat depressing programme on the impact of human population growth. So informative and eye opening that no doubt it also will not appear on American TV. Can’t have exposure to science and current affairs that the religious and the conservative US might dislike now can we. Someone might be upset to find their cherished beliefs contradicted by facts.

  10. danielrudolph says

    There were follow-ups the the story about the US version of frozen planet. The content will make it to the US. The issue is Discovery hates Attenborough. THey’ve previously replace him with Sigourney Weaver and Oprah Winfrey. Since he’s on camera a lot in this one, he’ll be harder to replace than usual.

  11. bric says

    “Discovery hates Attenborough” ? That’s an insult to the British Way of Life! Pity we don’t have gunboats any more. If I had ever watched the stuff I would boycott Ms Winfrey immediately; it certainly won’t be any hardship to boycott ‘Discovery’ . . .

  12. says

    Well, do they hate him or are they just trying to sugar-coat his message with a more ‘palatable’ voice? Leaving aside the regrettable fact that people tend to think of female narrators as less authoritative….

  13. GG says


    Since he’s on camera a lot in this one, he’ll be harder to replace than usual.

    He was on camera a couple of times in the first episode, but he hasn’t appeared in any of the episodes since.

    On another note, I heard speculation recently that David Attenborough may be the most widely travelled person in the world. Whether or not it’s true we’ll probably never know, but I imagine he’s certainly a pretty good candidate for the title. An IMO an extremely deserving one.

  14. Marcus Hill says

    I couldn’t possibly condone anyone circumventing the BBC’s intellectual copyright protection by using one of the many methods of spoofing their IP address to appear to be from the UK and going to, where all of Frozen Planet (along with a whole bunch of other great TV and radio programmes) is yours for the viewing…

  15. Holms says

    Starfish bug me, so that video is all win for me. Die, sea-vermin! (No, I do not care if ‘vermin’ is apt, go away)

    As for Frozen Planet in general, it is up to his usual high standard, but I wish they would stop or at least reduce the reliance they have on overdubbed ‘frosty’ sound effect.

  16. Anders says

    Sorry to be a bit OT, but I have a straight up biology question for the people here: I’m working on an exam, and was looking at previous years solutions and found this multiple choice question:

    41. When O 2 is absent or at very low levels in human muscle cells

    (A) NADH is not produced
    (B) ATP is produced
    (C) CO 2 is consumed during the formation of lactic acid
    (D) lactic acid is broken down during fermentation
    (E) O 2 is produced by splitting of water molecules

    Now, the correct answer here, according to the solution, and my teacher, was “(B) ATP is produced”

    Now, my understanding of this is that while ATP *can* be produced sans O2, the process is slower, and that answer (A) makes much more sense.

    Any thoughts?

  17. I'm_not says

    has anyone else noticed the urchin, at around 1:20 that seems to be wearing a Mr. Potatohead disguise?

  18. says

    Bric @ #7

    I’ve grown to have this feeling that the climate change denialists are equivalent to children, adolescents, and some adults (obviously)who when they don’t want to hear something they disagree with, they stick their fingers in their ears (and everyone else) and sing “Na Na Da NaNa NaNa”.

  19. Grumps says

    Got in from work about an hour ago with a horrible rhino-virus making me feel like shit. What better than to have 3 episodes of Frozen Planet unwatched waiting for me on the BBC iplayer. I’ve already watched “Summer” (extraordinary photography, facts and spectacle) and now I’m taking my laptop and a cup of horlicks to bed to watch the other two. Thank goodness for the BBC and for David Attenborough. *sniff, cough, groan*

  20. jFruh says

    That brinicle was amazing…. but watching the video, I have the impression there’s a lot of special fx that went into that.

    I don’t know if it’s just the light, or maybe the video feed from bbc was bad quality… but it just seemed composited in some way.
    Maybe just a few tidbits smudged here and there to make the whole time lapse smoother.

    Other then that, very very cool.

    Funny though, a couple of days ago I started wondering what would happen if we forced the 4°C water, in the depths of oceans, to cool down a few degrees quickly.
    Seems like this sort of chain reaction deathray is what happens…

    Nature is beautiful…. in a very unforgiving kind of way.

  21. Amphiox says

    Now, my understanding of this is that while ATP *can* be produced sans O2, the process is slower, and that answer (A) makes much more sense.

    Actually, the anaerobic production of ATP is faster than aerobic respiration. That’s why “fast-twitch” muscles are generally “white”, ie they have few mitochondria and are mostly anaerobic. Aerobic respiration is more efficient, producing far more ATP per unit of fuel (ie glucose) consumed.

    Simply putting it:

    Without O2 cells will do Glucose –(glycolysis in cytoplasm)–> pyruvate + 2 ATP —> lactic acid (which in humans usually gets reconverted to glucose later, consuming ATP, in the hopes of eventually reusing that glucose aerobically, so humans can’t survive longterm without oxygen). In anaerobic fermenting organisms that use fermentation for longterm energy production, the reaction goes to alcohol or acetic acid which gets excreted.

    With O2 cells will do Glucose —>pyruvate + 2 ATP —> transport into mitochondria –(oxidative respiration)–> CO2 + H2O + (about) 36 ATP

    Some NADH is produced in glycolysis, so (A) is wrong. (C) and (D) are typical multiple choice test red herrings, and (E) is photosynthesis.

  22. MudPuddles says

    I count myself extremely fortunate to have worked with Sir David. An incredible human being.

    @Dunc #8 – we can also thank him for Dr. Who *. Without his support as BBC2 Controller it would never have been achievable or as successful as it was.

    (*if you like Dr. Who, that is)

  23. Gregory Greenwood says

    I have been watching that series every Monday for the past few weeks, and I am greatly enjoying it, much as I greatly enjoy pretty much everything Attenborough has done. The brinicle sequence was particularly impressive, but there are countless others – the filming of emperor penguin colonies in the modst of snow storms, the placing of a hidden camera inside the den of a female polar bear so that we can see her interaction with her cubs, and the sequence in the Autumn episode that shows that Polar bears aren’t always the territorial loners we expect them to be – especially when whale carcass with a side order of seaweed is on the menu…

    That man is a national treasure of the UK. It has always puzzled me why American TV edits his voice out of his documentaries when they are shown over there.

    And don’t get me started on creationist morons sending him death threats…

  24. says

    I wish the UK and USA would do like the Japanese government and have a designation for “living national treasure” for people like Attenborough. Because that’s what he is.

  25. says

    I mean, how many other TV producers have actually made serious and significant contributions to the advancement of science whilst also making fantastically enjoyable and educational programs?

    Don’t forget: how many other TV producers have made serious and significant shows while also running the production company AND rapelling along the side of aviaries with godawful drops to surf and rocks, getting hauled up into the rainforest canopy, climbing gigantic mounds of bat-poo, and stomping around in winter in Antarctica?

    What’s insane about Attenborough is that he is so full of the joy of doing all that stuff, that he makes it look easy.

  26. cswella says

    I wish the UK and USA would do like the Japanese government and have a designation for “living national treasure” for people like Attenborough. Because that’s what he is.

    I would almost agree with your desire, but in the back of my mind there is a nagging feeling that if the USA did this, people like Billy Graham and such would be awarded this title.

  27. I'm_not says

    Attenborough (and possibly his brother) will appear on a coin or a note or a stamp in the next century or so. It’s not fucking X-Factor you know? Jeez.

  28. KG says

    a horrible rhino-virus – Grumps

    One that makes you grow horns, and a tough hide with folds in it?

  29. Gonzo says

    Frozen Planet is available on direct download forums and blogs all over the place. It’s also, like most science TV shows, available on bit torrent swarms. There are a lot of interesting science documentaries (mostly from the BBC) out there. And there are file sharers seriously devoted to spreading them. And for that I thank them.

    Brave New World with Stephen Hawking? Sure!

    Leech and seed. But mostly, seed! Sharing is caring. That’s the concept.

  30. opposablethumbs, que le pouce enragé mette les pouces says

    Been watching the series – blindingly good photography (that we’ve almost come to take for granted, the standard is so high) and yes, Attenborough is a real hero for helping so many people get the joy, excitement and importance of this aspect of science. The script is a fraction of a shade of a tad less good than usual, but then “the usual” does set the bar very high!

  31. John Phillips, FCD says

    I also wouldn’t recommend that people get around the beeb’s IP by looking on Usenet or an NZB indexing site for a 700MB SD or 1.6GB HD version. Not even for the poor 350MB Oz aired version missing the 10 minute freeze frame making of section and which is aired a few days earlier than the full UK version aired on a Wednesday.

    BTW, for those interested, the DVD & Blu-Ray comes out in the UK on the 8th. December.

  32. louis14 says

    I’ve been avidly watching Frozen Planet also. The photography seems to get better every time he brings out a new series. Some of the behaviour shown in Frozen Planet has been extraordinary – for instance the techniques that killer whales use to hunt seals. That brinicle thing was beautifully sinister. There’s always stuff that you’ve never seen before – always more insights into the wonderful natural world around us.

    David Attenborough deserves a huge thank you for doing these series (I’ve loved them all, starting way back with Life On Earth). But huge credit should also go to the fantastic efforts and skills of the film crews. And the BBC for having the vision to make such amazing television. I pay my TV Licence gladly, just to have these programs. (Most of the rest – not so much).

  33. bric says

    We do have a sort of ‘national treasure’ status – the ‘Sir’ bit; Sir David is also

    Member of the Order of Merit
    Companion of Honour
    Commander of the Royal Victorian Order
    Commander of the Order of the British Empire
    Fellow of the Royal Society
    Fellow of Zoological Society of London

    His brother, a mere actor, is now Lord Attenborough

  34. thunderbird5 says

    The “Life On Earth” series from 1979 had a profound effect upon my entire way of thinking, of looking a life and the world around me. When the series was being proposed, there were concerns raised about the first episode – what one TV exec described as “Fifty minutes just about seas and slime” – because it was thought by some in the Beeb that this was both too complex for the UK public and not an attractive enough subject to keep the viewers or entice them to watch next week.

    Fortunately (and characteristically) Attenborough and his producers stuck to their guns and insisted upon the first episode having that necessary, detailed explanation of how life began (helped by some superbly chosen and photographed locations and examples). After all, when running the new BBC2 he went by the maxim that “Good TV is giving people what they don’t yet know they want.”

    That Thursday night, like millions of others, I sat down in front our rental TV and, along, with my family and millions of others, watched fifty minutes of green slime. There was some struggle to understand bits of it for some of us younger kids but, discussing it afterwards over the Ovaltine and digestives with our Mum who knew a lot about this stuff, we felt confidently in possession of some basic knowledge – of DNA and (what we later learnt were named) eukaryotes and stromatalites. – that felt like a revelation.

    For the next 13 weeks we were hooked. I never forgot the marvel of the filming, either – never before had such things been seen or shown and we were utterly enthralled. It was even discussed in our school playground next morning (as all TV occasions of note were), usually of the “Did you see that bit with the snakes! And those scary fish!” variety. But it was taken for granted that we all watched it.

    Many excellent series later, I still rate Attenborough’s Life On Earth as one of TV’s greatest achievements. Its hard to believe now but there really was a time when 20 million or so British people spent a cold Thursday evening watching 50 minutes of slime.