The Birders on Avian Island by film student Kyra Willans

Picture 26

Birders camp on Avian Island


Picture 25
Adelie Penguin



 My segment follows Cameron and Jen, two ornithologists or “birders” who spend
five days on Avian Island studying the Adelie penguin colony that inhabits the island.
The segment will explain who these scientists are, what they do, and why they
do it. In short, these two scientists have the responsibility of collecting data on the life
cycle of the Adelie penguins in order to determine the population’s overall health. This
means they’re getting down and dirty, taking a census of the entire colony, weighing
chicks, collecting food and excrement samples, among other things. This information is
important to environmental research because, as this segment will explain, the health of
the Adelie penguin population directly corresponds to the changing climate.
Jen and Cameron’s stay on Avian Island was full of many exciting moments that I
hope to include in my segment. The island was home to many challenges including seals
that threatened to roll over their tents, an onslaught of attacks from pestering skua birds,
terrain that is unfriendly to humans, and the isolation from civilization and help. This
isn’t your typical laboratory science work.

Cameron and Jen are refreshingly personable characters tasked with a both
exciting and important job. I have ample material to produce a segment that is both
entertaining and informative.

Working on Beyond The Ice has provided me with an opportunity to challenge
myself as a storyteller by working with subject matter which was previously foreign to
me. While working on this project I’ve learned a lot about marine science and biology
and I’m now faced with the task of relaying this material to a wide audience. I’m
fortunate to be able to be able to construct a story completely on my own and make
my own creative choices as a student in the Digital Filmmaking Program at Rutgers

Science and the Big Picture: film student Gabby Gatdula on Beyond the Ice


For the Beyond the Ice project, I’ve been working on putting together a story about Oscar Schofield, a biological oceanographer hailing from the Rutgers Marine and Coastal Sciences department who specializes in studying phytoplankton. For my scene, it’s not so much about the nitty gritty details of the science involved in studying West Antarctic Peninsula– it’s about the big picture and what the science they’re doing down there means for the global ecosystem and human society in the future. The LTER is unique in that they have all the “pieces to the puzzle” since all the scientists down there study different things down there from the whales to the Adelie penguins. What they hope for is that by pulling together all these studies, they can provide insight into what it all means for the system as a whole. They believe what they’ve been studying is an indication of climate change, but only through their long term work can they provide that evidence. Oscar summarizes all of this succinctly and he does a great job of making even those unfamiliar with science understand.
Beyond the big picture of why the LTER’s work matters on a global scale, the other part of my story concerns Oscar himself and how he has changed as a person. He feels protective and invested in the LTER since he’s been involved with it for so long, and he’s been mentored by the people that began this project. They’re also a second family to him, and he loves his crew very much. Furthermore, Oscar has made a lot of personal sacrifices to be down there, and he’s not just doing this for himself as a scientist, but for his family, his students, and the generations to come. The LTER means more to him than my words on a blog can explain.
I don’t feel anywhere close to being done with my scene, but I think I’ve finally gained a sense of how I want to interweave the importance of the LTER to the science and world community and its importance to Oscar. I’ve been handling Oscar’s main interview footage, and the real challenge has been taking such a meticulous and detailed interview and sizing it down to its most important elements. Raw footage is nothing without a story to shape it, and I think I’m finally finding that story. More than anything, this project’s been teaching me the importance of editing to shaping a story, and I just hope that I’ll come out a stronger editor after all is said and done.

Zooplankton in Antarctica, by film student Ted Selden

Debbie Steinberg deploys net off stern of research vessel Gould

Debbie Steinberg deploys net off stern of research vessel Gould

The segment I will be editing is about Deddie Steinberg, zooplankton expert. In her interviews she talks about two primary subjects: personal stories, and the professional work she conducts on the ship. I will be using both subjects to communicate to the audience an accurate portrayal of her time on this cruise and the voyages before.

My scene starts with Steinberg talking about her work: predominantly the diurnal migration of zooaplankton. She continue to describe the method of collecting samples of zooaplankton at different depths of sea level at different times of day to gauge their locations. The tool she uses is a complex 8 chambered net. This contraption is lowered into the sea and floats behind the ship. A water pressure gauge triggers the different nets to open and collect samples of  zooplankton. In this cut, she will describe this possess and explain why this research is important.

The second segment will explore the social aspect of Steinberd’s life. Her research keeps her at sea for several weeks out of the year. This impacts her family life by preventing her from seeing them. A connection between her and her ship mates is formed and becomes her community for the time spent in the antarctic. The conversation of the community on the ship will transition to the dangers of sea life in this location. She will account accidents that have ended in death and mutilation in a location where help is several days away with clear whether.

This cut will end with Steinberg talking about her reasons for continuing her research. Her discussions of the family life and dangers aboard the ship will illustrate the personal disadvantages and risks of her job; however, she will also express the importance of her work by stating the personal and global significance of her work.

New Technologies Changing Research Practice in Antarctica, by film student Darrel Gordon


Professor Oscar Schofield describing new ocean technologies

The scene that I am shaping for the Beyond the Ice documentary project centers around Oscar Schofield, one of the LTER’s head scientists. Oscar’s research focuses on observing microscopic organisms called phytoplankton.  He works with the LTER network by analyzing the effects of climate change on the phytoplankton population and the food web built around it.

Oscar enthusiastically participated in several interviews and scenes while on the ship, and continues to assist the project now by providing scientific lectures as well as additional interviews.  I’ve specifically been handling the footage from the voyage concerning the Rutgers glider robots.  These technological marvels are deployed in the Antarctic to collect massive amounts of information regarding the physical and biological properties of the environment and their trended change.  The gliders are able to cover larger areas of the ocean with less risk and menial labor for the scientists.  In my footage Oscar details how researchers are using innovative strategies to more efficiently use this technology.  They’ve started to tracking penguins and other animals using radio transmitters and sending the gliders to follow them.  Essentially allowing these animals to lead the glider fleet allows the researchers to analyze the biological hotspots that the creatures intuitively navigate to, which allows them to collect more relevant data.  These gliders are changing the face of environmental research, and in the future will allow scientific data like these to be shared among the public.

Working on Beyond the Ice has basically defined hands on learning for me.  Being able to hone my production and communication skills while contributing to such an important project is not only fun, but makes me feel like my work will make a difference.  I enjoy this project personally because it combines so many of my many interests.  I get to film and edit video, use story telling techniques to communicate concepts, learn about cutting edge scientific research, help educate the public, encourage social and policy change and hopefully help the global community.  And what’s great is that I am given so much creative freedom while still working closely and cooperating with a motivated team of students and staff.  I think that universities need more programs like this that afford real experience alongside formal education to engage students.  I’m sure coordinating such programs isn’t easy, but it’s something that I think they could strive towards.

Ocean Science is Difficult to Measure by film student Stephanie Wong

Hugh Ducklow collects ocean water samples in Antarctica


Oceanographic instrument is lowered to collect water samples at different ocean depths

Oceanographic instrument is lowered to collect water samples at different ocean depths

According to Hugh Ducklow, obtaining every bit of information is expensive but it is necessary research. “The ship costs $50,000 a day before you even start paying for the science. We’re 10,000 miles from our labs at home. It seems trivial to have a single filter of carbon from the water compared to the hundreds that we do, but every one is hard to get, and every one adds up to make a bigger picture”. LTER scientists measure the carbon content of different levels of the ocean using their one and only CTD (above), a machine controlled by humans that captures water at specific levels –thousands of feet in difference– under the sea.Hugh points out that, after 21 years of research, areas in the North have shown obvious changes and responses to the diminishing sea ice. “We are at the end of this story… If we listen to climate scientists and we look at models that forecast global warming over the next century, we expect all of Antarctica to be warming.” Why are we at the end of this story? What do these changes mean for us– for the rest of the world?I am working on editing scenes with Hugh Ducklow, the chief scientist of the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research Project. Though I grew up being very visual arts-focused, this project is a huge deal and is luring me in with both the interesting and relevant science as well as the beautiful shots of Antarctica I get to see and use to shape these stories. I am growing fond of the information quickly, and realizing the importance of all the minute details and their relationship to all other organisms. I feel privileged to be able to get direct access to the scientists of the stories we are editing. Later this week, other students and I are meeting with Hugh Ducklow, Doug Martinson, Oscar Schofield, LTER scientists.

Photography as Research: Reflections on Beyond the Ice by film student Olympia Christofinis

Dave with Camera

My scene is about whale biologist, Dave Johnston. What really caught my attention with his work is his integration of art and science. He uses photography as a means of visually recording his research. He takes eight photographs per minute so what he is left with is basically a photographic flipbook.

I haven’t really heard of modern scientists using photography as an integral part of furthering their research like Dave, so for me that was a glimpse into a scientific realm I haven’t really imagined before. Scientific illustrations have been an integral part of science since the invention of the microscope–the use of photography shouldn’t have struck me as alien. Nonetheless, Dave’s project has opened up my eyes to the realm of the Antarctic.

I am a novice with filmmaking. Not only am I learning how to use the film editing software but I am learning about a lot of the science involved in the LTER. The reason as to why I wanted to work on this documentary was to learn about the science through nontraditional means.  Listening to Oscar Schofield’s presentation in our Film Center at our Center for Digital Filmmaking was really astounding and, quite frankly, inspiring. He gave the film students a basic introduction to the science involved in the LTER. He first talked about how the LTER came into being and apparently it started off with the hypothesis that climate change in the Antarctic could be seen in the biology, predominantly with the decline and rise of bird populations. Now biology reflecting climate change is a widely accepted theory, but at the time the LTER began, it was considered radical and controversial.

Beyond the Ice with Pete: A profile by film student Amber Nelson


            23 year old Pete (pictured above) is about two years into his Antarctic sailing experience.  As first-mate on the Laurence M. Gould, he challenges himself through the iceberg-ridden and uncharted seas to get our team of scientists safely to Palmer Station and around the West Peninsula.  The journey they take to get there is not an easy or short one, but with Pete’s expertise, it is completely possible.

The science cruise starts when the ship leaves Punta Arenas in Chile, and heads South.  Eventually, the ship enters the Drake Passage, into the Boyd Strait, and across the Brans Field. This travel is so far ice-less until the vessel gets to the Croker Passage, where the real Antarctic experience begins. “That’s the first area where navigation gets a little tight, in terms of how close the vessel is to the shoreline,” Pete tells us in an interview.  Heading Southwest, the Laurence M. Gould heads into the Gerlache Strait, where penguins and other wildlife are noticed.  From the Gerlache Strait, the vessel enters the Neumayer Channel, where there are much heavier ice conditions.  The Neumayer is only about a half mile to a mile wide from shoreline to shoreline, which makes the ice pack full and tight.  Once out of the Neumayer, our team is headed into the Bismark Strait.  Finally, from there, they make their way into Palmer Station.

There are many dangers in this long journey where navigation is key to safety.  Pete lets us know that his most important job is keeping the vessel and science gear as far away from ice as possible.  Although not all ice is as extreme as it sounds, many types are a great risk to the vessel and the science going on.  With the help of all the equipment that is in the bridge (where Pete works), navigating around ice becomes a little easier, but still just as dangerous. However, for Pete, dodging icebergs is “kind of exhilarating”.

Using Robots to Study Climate Change

When Oscar Schofield joined the Long Term Ecological Research project in 2008, he integrated glider robot operations into the project’s ocean sampling procedure. Oscar realized that glider robots could collect a thousands times more physical data than traditional approaches using a science vessel. The gliders Oscar uses for LTER science measure temperature, salinity and depth as they move up and down through the water column. When additional sensors are added to the robots, they can also measure currents.  They can also measure the concentration and health of  ocean’s small plants called phytoplankton.

Rutgers graduate students Ana Filipa Carvalho and Nicole Couto worked at Palmer Station in the West Antarctic Peninsula for the past four months deploying glider robots from small rubber boats call zodiacs. The robots were then navigated by Rutgers engineer Dave Aragon from the Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences on the Cook campus.

“We are really lucky to learn cutting edge science in such an amazing place” – Filipa


Graduate Students Filipa Carvalho & Nicole Couto on “The Bruiser” deploying glider robots


Filip & Nicole taking water samples


Filipa & Nicole taking water samples

RU students work at Palmer station

Filipa & Nicole at Palmer Station preparing Robots for deployment

oscar sees glider near gould

Oscar Schofield about to recover gilder in Antarctic waters

oscar recovers glider Antarctica

Oscar Schofield recovering gilder in Antarctic waters

oscar pulls glider onto zodiac

Filipa adn Nicole deploy

Graduate Students Filipa Carvalho & Nicole Couto recovering glider


Antarctic Photographer Chris Linder

Chris Linder specializes in photographing ice and science in the Arctic and Antarctic. Chris is a talented, hard working artist who uniquely bridges art and science. In addition to being an award winning photographer, Chris is a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and he holds a masters in physical oceanography.

Chris joined the production of our NSF funded film “Antarctica: Beyond the Ice” as a cinematographer and co-field producer. Though Chris had never worked on a documentary production before, he combined his intuitive sense of lighting and framing with his deep understanding of science and research vessel operations to make our month of filming a true success.

Here are Chris’ stills from our recent shoot. To learn more about Chris’ work, please visit his website at:


Photographer Chris Linder shooting Adélie Penguins in Antarctica


L.M. Gould Research Vessel


Photographed by Chris Linder


Photographed by Chris Linder


Photographed by Chris Linder


Photographed by Chris Linder


Photographed by Chris Linder


Filmmaker’s Survival Guide: 101

Creating Antarctica: Beyond the Ice* proposed unique challenges for our Rutgers filmmaker. The challenge was straightforward: how do you both repel the harsh elements, while also capturing it visually on film?  In the Antarctic, miles away from any B&H or Best Buy, small technical issues could leave you on thin ice. But as good filmmakers know, challenges are the catalyst for creativity.

We give to you:  The Filmmakers’ Survival Guide to Antarctica.

Date: 2/04/2013                                                               Survival Guide: 101

Location: Antarctic Peninsula
1. Bring at least two of everything. You cannot buy batteries, let alone pick up a new FS700, at Palmer Station.

2. Going to be shooting a whale biopsy? Be sure to use your Neutral Density filter! Wouldn’t want that tag to blend into the clouds; you need great contrast!

3. Recording an interview at Avian Island, the home of 70 thousand breeding pairs of Adelie Penguins? Bring your windscreen to battle those howling winds, while still picking up ambient noise!

4. If you are riding a Zodiac along the West Antarctic peninsula, be aware of how your equipment functions in the cold! The frigid temperatures will drain your battery life three times faster than normal, and drastic changes in temperature will potentially damage your camera’s sensor.

5. Know your limits. If you’re shooting an interview on the deck of a research vessel, the extreme wind chill can be a lot to handle, so make sure you wear the right winter gear and take breaks before you get frostbite.


* Note:  While our filmmakers have been in Antarctica, they have come up with this new working title for this documentary.