Creepy video of an icy finger of death

By Phil Plait | March 4, 2012 7:14 am

This is amazing and weird and wonderful and terrifying: a time lapse video of of water freezing as it flows down to the ocean floor.

This is a clip from the Discovery Channel show Frozen Planet, and if that’s the sort of thing they’ll have on the program, it’s definitely worth a watch.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science

Comments (51)

  1. Wish I could watch this video. Even though Japan has the Discovery Channel, this video isn’t available here.

  2. corey

    OMFG That is so cooool! Except the starfish moving around is really creepy.

  3. frag971

    Same here, can’t watch it in my country.

  4. john

    It’s actually a show by the BBC. The Discovery Channel are airing it in the U.S. with Alec Baldwin as the narrator instead of David Attenborough.

  5. amar
  6. Jørgen Frøyen

    Same with Norway.

  7. Chris

    I’m officially amazed. It looks like science fiction. Poor little starfish. So many legs, but can’t run very fast.
    For those who can’t see it http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ice_stalactite

  8. chief

    This was making the rounds several weeks ago so it is “old” but interesting information.

    It appears that water has a fourth property other than that of water, solid, and gas, which is a super cooled state. Be very interesting if we can determine if this “new” property enables unsuspected bonuses on some of the icy moons.

    Who knew that dihydrogen oxide was such a complex and reactive material.

  9. McHandler
  10. Daniel J. Andrews

    The Discovery Channel are airing it in the U.S. with Alec Baldwin as the narrator instead of David Attenborough.

    *Sighhhhhhh* (not a sigh of admiration)

  11. This is the same series about which there was a bit of a fuss last year when there was some doubt about whether the Discovery Channel, a co-producer of the series, would air the final episode in which Attenborough addresses the effects of climate change.

  12. CR

    I remember several years ago when the US would air series with Attenborough’s voice, and (gasp!) release a companion BOOK for those who like to read. Used to be a time that Attenborough was a big deal over here in the US, and when English narration wasn’t treated like a foreign language. I don’t know when the switch to ‘Americanize’ documentaries actually occurred, but I first noticed it in ‘Walking with Dinosaurs,’ which not only re-dubbed the voice, it edited the visuals (apparently to ‘pump up’ the slow-to-US-viewers pace of the original version). Sigh, indeed.

    This time-lapse video, regardless of narration, is amazing, and the demise of those poor starfish is a bit creepy. Some of them actually appear to be trying to get away, and when one limb gets caught, seem to try to stretch away from the ice, even ‘standing up’ to get as far from the ice as possible. Brr.

  13. CoffeeCupContrails

    Fantabulous… Ice-stacular?

    Watched this in the original Attenborough edition. The six episodes are really really good. Just as good are the typical few minutes at the end of the show where they show ‘how they did it’. Really hope they air this part in the US.

    Pure awesomeness.

    #11: In addition, I think there was some controversy about filming a polar bear with its cubs in a zoo, but portraying it just as if it was filmed in a snow den in the wild. Not sure what came of it. It really wasn’t that bad. Unless I’m confusing shows here. ’twas either Planet Earth or Frozen Planet.

  14. Sergy

    Not available in your country. Ukraine. But it’s ok, I am going to watch it using my pirate skills later (whole movie, I mean).

  15. Chambered

    So the sound effects of the water freezing; I’ve always wondered on programs like this, is that added for effect, or is that actual recorded sound?

  16. tiggerlator

    Why is the video not available in the uk??

  17. Artor

    The sound is added in the studio. Ice underwater doesn’t sound like that; it was recorded in air & dubbed. I noticed the same thing, but I like the ambient feel of it. It made me feel chilly just watching.

  18. I am surprised that sea stars and urchins don’t sense the difference in temperature in a timely enough manner to avoid being frozen and trapped in the ice. What’s up with that, marine biologists?

  19. s

    CoffeeCupContrails @13: Yes, that was Frozen Planet – rather than disturb a wild polar bear mama they filmed a zoo polar bear, which I was fine with. The Daily Fail made a big deal out of it, as a cover for attacking the BBC generally.
    I’m another one who thought the 10-minute “How we did it” section at the end of each episode were equally worth watching; I don’t think they’ll be showing these in the US version as the ads will take up the time. If so, you Americans will be missing a lot.

  20. The Discovery Channel are airing it in the U.S. with Alec Baldwin as the narrator instead of David Attenborough.

    Epic failure on the part of the Discovery Channel. Not that I am at all surprised.

    I am part of the “Discovery Influencer” panel. They just sent me a survey about a possible show regarding feral children. Here is my reply to them: “Normally the treatment of feral children would be a subject of interest, however I hold little hope that any US production of such a program would be done with any quality in mind. Instead I am afraid that it will be a sensationalist show with no educational or scientific merit. The current crop of programming from the discovery channel leads me to hold out no hope for a quality program, hence my reluctance to give any positive feedback. Until such time that truly scientific and educational programming makes a return, I intend to not watch much of your offerings.”

    I think that reply is appropriate for just about ANY show they offer…

    In case they still offer invitations, you can try to influence them at: https://www.influencerdiscovery.com/

  21. Daniel J. Andrews

    I think there was some controversy about filming a polar bear with its cubs in a zoo, but portraying it just as if it was filmed in a snow den in the wild. Not sure what came of it. It really wasn’t that bad. Unless I’m confusing shows here. ’twas either Planet Earth or Frozen Planet.

    You’re right…it was Frozen Planet and it wasn’t that bad. BBC was open about what they had done beforehand as it was mentioned on their website, and there are clips on their site showing how they filmed the polar bear cubs in the zoo. Plus the narration in the film doesn’t say these are cubs in the wild either. The fuss was made by the usual media suspects intent upon bashing the BBC for offences real and imagined…in this case, imagined. If you’re going to keep a secret to mislead viewers, you certainly don’t post the behind the scenes footage on your website for everyone to see.

  22. antiavenger

    I have high hopes for the quality of this show even if Attenborough isn’t the voice of it. The series of BBC/Discovery nature documentaries in previous years is still high quality IMO even with the voices replaced. I’d prefer if they didn’t do that but clearly Discovery wants a voice that American audiences are wholly familiar with.

    @17: I’m also a part of that panel and that show in particular was questionable even with the best intentions. There’d be no way in heck I’d watch it. But with Discovery as of late we all know it’s just gonna be sensationalist television to feed to their new redneck crop of programming… :(

  23. chief

    re 18.

    Don’t forget Wild Kingdom where they manufactured details and actions of wildlife to provide more interesting stories. (Disney was guilty of this as well, ie lemmings jumping to their deaths).

    At least the BBC was forthcoming about the edits required for the sequences of filming. I just picked up the BBC Life collection (UK version) and made sure that it was Sir David doing the narration as intended.

  24. Sharon

    I’ve watched all of Frozen Planet, and it has the most stunningly beautiful shots I have ever seen in my life. I usually buy DVDs, but I will be getting this in blu-ray to enjoy its full glory over and over again. And yes, it’s worth it to find the version with David Attenborough. Amazon Canada usually carries the British version of things, but in North American formats.

  25. Mike G

    Mike Haubrich,
    I’m a marine biologist, though I specialize in tropical ecology, so I’m probably not the best person to answer this question. Hopefully we’ll get a reader with a more closely related specialty who can give a better answer. In the meantime though, I’ll take a stab at it. I suspect there are a number of reasons at play which explain why they don’t get out of the way.

    First, in shallow water, dramatic changes in temperature aren’t unusual. Even if the critters did feel a big change in temperature, it wouldn’t necessarily signal a problem to them. Since virtually all of the animals that are touched by the brinicle are killed, there’s also very little opportunity for them to learn to run away from dramatic temperature drops. This also isn’t an incredibly common occurrence, so there’s probably not very strong selective pressure for animals who avoid these things.

    Also, the blurriness you see indicates that there’s a big difference in the density of the brine and the surrounding seawater, which is keeping them from mixing very quickly. The animals would have to get very close to the brine, if not in it, to feel the temperature drop by much, by which time it’s probably too late. Keep in mind that the brine can be supercooled (to below -2C or 27F) without freezing because of its extremely high salinity. The water around it freezes on contact because its lower salinity means it has a higher freezing temperature. The water inside the bodies of the animals is at the lower salinity of the surrounding water, so would freeze inside of them almost upon contact with the supercooled brine.

    Finally, and I’m not sure how much this effect is at play here, most echinoderms (the group that includes seastars and sea urchins) are pretty sensitive to changes in salinity, with the first and most obvious signs being lethargy and reduced response to stimuli. The hypersaline water may be shocking them to the point that even if they feel the cold water before they’re frozen solid, they’re too groggy to respond effectively.

  26. Gary Ansorge

    22. Mike G

    Excellent explanation.

    I recall reading of extreme temperature changes in Siberia that froze large mammals where they stood. I wonder if there’s a similarity between the dense brine solution and what happens in atmosphere? Of course, I have no idea what might be added to air to increase its density to such an extent and allow it to be supercooled,,,oh well, perambulating thoughts don’t necessarily correlate with anything,,,

    Fascinating flick,,,

    Gary 7

  27. Bhalchandra Pujari

    Too bad that they removed Sir Attenborough’s voice :( .

    But BBC had a story of the same clip with Attenborough’s voice! http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/15835017
    The camera setup is also interesting!

  28. John Paradox

    20. chief Says:
    March 4th, 2012 at 11:05 am

    re 18.

    Don’t forget Wild Kingdom where they manufactured details and actions of wildlife to provide more interesting stories. (Disney was guilty of this as well, ie lemmings jumping to their deaths).

    Your comment reminded me of “Catching Trouble”, a short run on MST3K (Episode 315: Teenage Caveman). It’s and old short showing a guy capturing various animals in some of the most hideous ways – and the riffs make that very clear.

    J/P=?

  29. icewings

    I think Alec Baldwin is a great choice. I loved his work on Thomas the Tank Engine!

    Plus, he speaks American English which frankly makes him more accessible than David Attenborough.

  30. Brasidas

    I believe the reason that the narration has been changed is because it would be impossible to remove references to global warming (which might offend the US public) from David Attenborough’s narration, so it was easier to completely redo it with Alec Baldwin. I think Discovery has done this with other UK shows that mention evolution as fact too.

  31. kat wagner

    Wow, that was soo cool! I was rooting for the sea stars, sea urchins and critters to hurry and get out of the way but they didn’t and I was sad, kinda. Can’t wait for the program to air and don’t care who narrates it. Doesn’t David Attenborough still narrate for PBS programs?

  32. Wzrd1

    @20, LarianLeQuella, I suspect we’ll continue to see a decline in quality and continued content creep into things not related to science, as has happened on every science related channel and pretty much every other specialized channel (such as SciFy, which originally had quality science fiction, but now has nothing but sub-B movies, paranormal nonsense and the WWE-F-G-H-I-J-K (whatever new franchise it is this week))…
    In short, US programming is becoming more vapid by the week to the point that I’m really close to canceling my cable.

  33. ken youngstrom

    The easiest way to address this is simply to get a DVD player set to “region 0″ (zero) or to reprogram an existing player. Directions are readily available on line for many brands and models. Then one can purchase region 2 ( UK & Europe) DVDs from Amazon UK. The breadth of BBC science and nature videos is amazing. For example, a new series “Orbit – Earth’s Extraordinary Journey” begins today. Incidentally, another BBC nature series (can’t remember which one) removed the Attenborough narration and dubbed in Oprah! Sigh….

  34. steve

    I’m sorry, Alec Baldwin does a crappy job here. Dave Attenborough actually sounds like he’s fascinated by what’s going on in the clip (which he very much is considering he’s actually IN one of the the clips, at least the BBC version). Baldwin just sounds like he’s doing a voice over job, perfectly enunciated, perfectly emotionless.

  35. CR

    Not every American is offended by ‘controversial’ things, such as actual science or even scientific debate over whether something exists or how much of a particular thing is actually going on. But leave it to our corporate-controlled media and heavily lobbied politicians to decide what ‘reality’ we can and should handle… I guess stuff’s being sanitized for our protection, while the rest of the world thinks we’re ALL mindless drones.
    Sadly, too many Americans aren’t really proving that point incorrect, but I would argue that stupidity is a worldwide human trait, and even more sadly, it’s a trait that attracts the most attention.
    Sigh…

  36. Nigel Depledge

    John (4) said:

    It’s actually a show by the BBC. The Discovery Channel are airing it in the U.S. with Alec Baldwin as the narrator instead of David Attenborough.

    Yeah, I saw this on the Beeb a few months ago.

    But OMFSM, I cannot believe they replaced David Attenborough’s narration!

  37. Nigel Depledge

    Chief (8) said:

    This was making the rounds several weeks ago so it is “old” but interesting information.

    It appears that water has a fourth property other than that of water, solid, and gas, which is a super cooled state. Be very interesting if we can determine if this “new” property enables unsuspected bonuses on some of the icy moons.

    Who knew that dihydrogen oxide was such a complex and reactive material.

    No.

    As the original David Attenborough narration made clear, you are not seeing supercooled water. What you are seeing is very cold brine causing the water around it to freeze. There is no exotic physics or chemistry going on.

    Where seawater at the sea’s surface freezes, it makes regions of more concentrated brine (in a process analogous to freeze-distillation), and because the freezing point of water decreases with increasing solute concentration, this can get down to -10 or -15 °C. Because it is salty and cold, this brine is very much denser than the seawater around it, so it flows downhill. As it flows, it causes water to freeze out of the less-salty seawater through which it passes.

  38. Nigel Depledge

    Mike Haubrich (18) said:

    I am surprised that sea stars and urchins don’t sense the difference in temperature in a timely enough manner to avoid being frozen and trapped in the ice. What’s up with that, marine biologists?

    *sigh*. It’s pretty simple.

    These guys living on the seabed around Antarctica live in an environment that rarely gets above 4 °C. They are poikilothermic (their body temperature is dictated by their environment), which means that their metabolism is slow (all chemistry – including biochemistry – occurs more slowly at lower temperatures). And because their metabolism is slow, they cannot move very fast. Also, their perception of their surroundings is slower than ours. To their perception, such as it is, the freezing cold brine moves lightning-fast – they are moving at a desperate sprint to evade it, but it catches some of them nonetheless.

  39. Nigel Depledge

    Mike G (25) said:

    Keep in mind that the brine can be supercooled (to below -2C or 27F) without freezing because of its extremely high salinity. The water around it freezes on contact because its lower salinity means it has a higher freezing temperature.

    That’s not supercooling, it’s the normal deviation from “ideal” behaviour that any solvent displays when it has stuff dissolved in it.

    As any chemistry student will be able to tell you, the presence of dissolved salt lowers the freezing point of the water. The higher the salt concentration, the greater this effect. Thus, to chill down a chemical reaction (or to encourage crystallisation), you might place the vessel in an ice-brine bath, which can easily achieve temperatures down to -10 °C, and with a bit more work can get down to about -15 °C.

    Supercooling, on the other hand, is chilling a fluid below its freezing point without it freezing (usually due to a lack of nucleation sites for crystals to begin their growth). A fluid in this state will flash-freeze if any disturbance causes the beginning of crystal growth. But the brine in the film is not below its freezing point, so it is not supercooled.

  40. lokster

    “The uploader has not made this video available in your country.”

    And then they wonder why people download pirated TV shows… This is why.

  41. Ciaran

    “The Discovery Channel are airing it in the U.S. with Alec Baldwin as the narrator instead of David Attenborough.”

    Ugh! I’m glad the video isn’t available in my country.

  42. DennyMo

    Remarkable video.

    I think the last thing I actually enjoyed Alec Baldwin in was “Hunt for Red October”. Somebody mentioned how Attenborough manages to sound fascinated: Baldwin is just reading a script…

  43. Samm

    Nobody does nature like the BBC. This is just wrapping up after screening free-to-air in prime-time on NZ television, and it has been awesome, not just for the show itself, but for when it screened in an era of continual dumbing down of our national TV and being a massive hit. It has got people talking about science and documentaries again.

    And replacing Sir Attenborough with Baldwin? Sorry, but you guys are missing out. Having someone just reading a script doesn’t compare to having someone narrate who has lived this stuff for half a century. I’ll watch almost anything if I know Attenborough is involved. While I love 30 Rock, Baldwin just doesn’t have the same credentials…

  44. I’m pretty sure that only the original UK version will have the final episode about Global Warming too, which is one of the reasons they didn’t use Attenborough to narrate the others. He’s all for the science in Global Warming and imagine he wouldn’t want to be in the series if it didn’t cover all the bases!

  45. beer case

    Like for all you others, the clip above is unavailable to me in my country. But you might get lucky with this one?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2TV8IUzADM

    You might also try the link provided by Bhalchandra Pujari (#27)

  46. Messier Tidy Upper

    Drat. All I get is :

    The uploader has not made this video available in your country.

    Australia, FWIW. I see the same is true for other nations too. I hate it when that happens. :-(

    @44. Samm : “Baldwin just doesn’t have the same credentials…”

    As you can see from this clip :

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cfOXhGbwdm0

    Kim Jong Il wasn’t very impressed with him either! ;-)

  47. ian

    I’m not really sure why anyone is shocked about the dubbing over of Sir David. They did it with Sigourney Weaver in Planet Earth and Oprah Winfrey in Life. Luckily, the BBC version of all of them is available on Blu-Ray, so I just pretend the others don’t exist.

  48. Nigel Depledge

    @ Ian (48) -

    Yes. Why on Earth would anyone want to listen to a scientist who happens to be the world’s most successful populariser of Natural History when they can hear an actor (who does not understand what they are describing) reading from a script instead?

  49. Paul

    Regarding why they couldn’t get out of the way, remember it’s time-lapse. Even though they basically say as much, it’s easy to forget watching a cool video of something you’ve never seen in real life. But of course starfish don’t really scurry around like that. Some are faster than others, but to get a general idea, here’s a starfish moving “really fast”:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBGccVAfJV4

  50. Matt B.

    Run, starfish, run! It’s ice-nine!

    Did Alec Baldwin take this voiceover job so he’d have something to do during 30 Rock’s extended hiatus? I could have done better. I made sure to get Planet Earth with Attenborough instead of Sigourney Weaver, who was inexplicably bad. Baldwin’s just not smooth enough here.

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