Directed by: Michael O. Snyder
In Partnership with: UiT, the Arctic University of Norway & University of Strathclyde
Antarctica is a land of superlatives. Here the coldest, the windiest, and the driest environments on planet Earth converge. ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ (the inaccessible southern land), resisted discovery until 1820, when it was first sighted by ship. Since then, Antarctica has held a siren’s song for generations of explorers, including household names the likes of Shackleton, Amundsen, Scott and Hilary. However, despite two centuries of discovery, much of the land below 70 degrees south remains unexplored. And practically nothing is known about the continent during the punishing winter months, when it is plunged into near total darkness and temperatures approach one hundred degrees below freezing. This black and frozen world has remained largely inaccessible and, due to the presumed absence of biological activity, has held little scientific interest for explorers. Until now.
Jørgen Berge is no stranger to the dark. For over a decade his team of researchers at the University of Tromsø in Norway have been leading expeditions into the high Arctic winter, a time of year known locally as the Polar Night. “Ten years ago, we all thought that the Polar Night was basically just a black desert.” says Berge. “But when we started to have a closer look, we saw that the whole ocean was just abundant with life. Evolution has done something incredible here: the organisms in these waters can detect extremely small amounts of available light, levels less than a millionth of what our eyes can see. They can use just a small part of that light spectrum - the biologically relevant light - to survive.” Berge and his team have pioneered the study of light in Arctic latitudes, publishing groundbreaking articles in the journal Nature and feature stories in National Geographic, demonstrating that incredibly tiny changes in the light climate can have sweeping effects on Arctic marine biology. But the real prize, says Berge, the next step of discovery, lies at the other end of the planet.
“The Antarctic winter has essentially never been studied,” says Berge, “simply because it is extremely hostile to human life. Practically everything that we know, and indeed almost all of the exploration of Antarctica, has been done during the summer months. So, this represents a leap into one of the last true frontiers on the planet.” In 2022 Berge plans to lead an expedition to Antarctica to install 3 remote sensing stations that will be capable of recording light data all year round. These stations will be installed in the Antarctic summer near to 3 manned bases at various latitudes on the continent. The stations will be semi-autonomous and will receive crucial support from overwintering teams at the bases.
The Edge of Darkness is a documentary film project documenting this scientific adventure.