Filmmaker and polar explorer Mark Terry has travelled to both ends of the earth, making it his business to share what he learns from teams of scientists with the world. He focuses particularly on the topic of climate change, and has learned a great deal from observing the ice, snow, and water in those regions.

As the only film officially invited to be screened for delegates and world leaders at COP16 in Cancun, Terry’s The Polar Explorer and accompanying presentations resulted in a new resolution being added to the Kyoto Protocol: Enhanced Action on Adaptation, Section 2, Subsection 25.

A member of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, the Explorers Club, the Canadian Council for Geographic Education, and the University of Alberta’s Northern Research Network, Terry has been decorated with several awards for his work. Most recently, he received Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Water Canada spoke with Terry on one of Toronto’s first truly chilly mornings of 2013—nothing, he said, compared to the temperature in Antarctica.

Water Canada: Congratulations on your Diamond Jubilee Medal. Can you tell us about the honour?

The medal recognizes contributions to Canada. I’m being recognized for my work on behalf of Canada on the international level, specifically around environmental policy at the United Nations.

You’ve made films about both poles: the Arctic (The Polar Explorer) and Antarctica (The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning). What draws you to these places?

What I like about the poles is that because they’re so far away, whatever you experience is truly unique. I also like going where the information is, especially when not many people, including our own government, can.

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I travel with the international all-stars of climate science. As a reporter, I can bring information from their findings to policy makers immediately, whereas it take a long time for research to be published. Most policy makers have to go through thick reports, but politicians are regular people and it’s sometimes difficult for them to read and process the science. It’s easier for them to sit through a film.

You continue to work with the UN. What’s the Youth Climate Report?

The Youth Climate Report is a series of films featuring young people interviewing their local climate scientists. They send us [Neko Harbour Entertainment, Terry’s company] the interview and we patch them together and show them at UN conferences. The films give policy makers a chance to see something rather than read the documents. It’s an ongoing partnership with the United Nations.

You’ve learned a lot about climate change by studying different forms of water in the polar regions. What can you tell us?

Rising sea levels is one of the biggest problems. When land ice melts, it contributes to the oceans, in effect rising the sea levels. It’s happening a lot faster these days. What’s worse is that as the ice melts, the rock underneath the glaciers is exposed to sunlight, producing an endothermic reaction. Heat travels along the remaining ice, and now you’ve got melting happening below as well as above. It’s much faster than a small trickle of water.

Glacier melt also affects the polar ecosystems. You have a lot of melted fresh water sitting on top of sea water, which dilutes salinity levels. When crossing the Northwest Passage, we took measurements and found that 40 metres down from the surface was virtually salt-free.

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It also struck scientists that the temperature of the surface water of the Arctic Ocean was two degrees. That’s why we’re not seeing any ice and the Northwest Passage is open. As a result, scientists have seen a real change in the marine life.

Some photos from your travels will be part of an exhibit organized by Capricious magazine. How did you get involved, and which photos are on display?

Capricious is an arts publication that has a specific theme each year. Its editors search the world finding the best photos that reflect that theme. They contacted me to be in their water-themed issue and are organizing a touring exhibition based on the issue. I think they plan to begin the tour in New York City.

All three photos are from Antarctica. Two are from Neko Harbour, and the third is the Wilkins Ice Shelf. I photographed one of the monolithic pieces that broke off. The other two look like Henry Moore sculptures floating in water—they’re curvaceous and very beautiful against the blue sky. In Antarctica, a day with no clouds is very rare. At the poles, there are often drastic changes in temperature that cause fog to clutter the sky.

Why do you find ice and snow so appealing?

There’s nothing like frozen water. There are so many densities, textures, and colours. So much that you get with frozen water than with any of its other states.

Neko Harbour. Photo: Mark Terry
Neko Harbour. Photo: Mark Terry

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