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Communicating polar science

Open University research about polar climate reached millions of people through the prime time TV programme Frozen Planet.

Key impacts of this research

  • The highest rating natural history science TV programme in the UK since 2001
  • Some 263,000 polar maps containing OU science research requested by the UK public
  • Prompted a public debate which influenced the passage of the UK Antarctic Bill through Parliament

Polar bear

Life and the environment in both the Arctic and Antarctic is a theme which inspired the seven-hour BBC/OU co-production, Frozen Planet, presented by Sir David Attenborough.

Some of the research which informed the programme was carried by Dr Mark Brandon in the Faculty of Science at the OU who has spent over 20 years researching polar science.

Dr Brandon described and explained new evidence about the physics of the climate and behaviour of animals in the Earth’s poles, disseminating it to vast audiences and engaging the public with polar science, resulting, for example, in requests for 263,000 polar maps produced and made available by The Open University in collaboration with the British Antarctic Survey.

Through the documentary, we provided the best evidence we have for why and how the Polar Regions are changing, and the potential impact on the rest of the planet.

Dr Mark Brandon, Reader in Polar Oceanography

Frozen Planet was watched by an average of 10.8 million people per episode with a further 12 million views on BBC iPlayer, and it provided a focal point that changed the debate on polar climate change.

When the House of Lords Communications Committee questioned Sir David Attenborough as to the robustness of the evidence on environmental issues in Frozen Planet, he responded that it was based on solid science.

State of the ice sheet

This evidence informed the debate around the UK Antarctic Bill as it passed through the Houses of Parliament as it raised issues such as krill (small crustacean) stocks in the southern ocean, the future of the Antarctic ice sheet and the state of the Arctic sea ice cover.



News & articles

Mark Brandon

The polar oceans and global climate

As The Open University celebrates its 50th anniversary, Mark Brandon, Professor in Polar Oceanography, delivered his inaugural lecture on the polar oceans and global climate and looked ahead to what could happen during the next 50 years.

15th July 2019
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