Icy Finger of Death Filmed for the First Time

02/28/2012

Like a lightning bolt hurled down from Mount Olympus, an icy “finger of death” strikes at sea life beneath the Antarctic ice shelf in what is surely one of the most jaw-dropping natural history sequences ever filmed.

Called a brinicle, or brine icicle, this sinister tube of ice grows over a matter of hours as super-salty brine leeches from the forming sea ice above. This video — a scene from Frozen Planet, premiering on Discovery Channel on March 18 — illustrates how this happens, as well as the deadly consequences for the slow-moving marine invertebrates in its path.

Frozen-planet-ice-brinicle-622x3507

The brinicle was filmed in 2009 by underwater cameramen Doug Anderson and Hugh Miller. Their mission in Antarctica was to film the diverse underwater communities beneath the sea ice, but on arriving in McMurdo Sound, they began to hear improbable tales from local scientists about ice stalactites that grow with amazing speed.

The two decided to capture a brinicle forming, but with the intense cold and constant need to change air tanks, they couldn’t stay down long enough to film the entire 12-hour event.

Luckily, Hugh Miller had with him a kit of spare camera parts. After diving all day, Miller spent each night racing to piece together a prototype time-lapse camera that would work in the intensely cold conditions. Without leaking.

It was on the camera’s second deployment that the team was able to capture one of the most astounding images of the entire Frozen Planet series.

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