Lonely Planet Writer

New BBC documentary broadcasts live from the icy wilderness of the Arctic

A new BBC documentary explores the undiscovered wilderness of the Arctic – a place that is changing faster than anywhere else on earth.

Presenters Gordon Buchanan, Kate Humble and Simon Reeve
Presenters Gordon Buchanan, Kate Humble and Simon Reeve Image by BBC

In Arctic Live, which began this week on BBC2,  Simon Reeve, Kate Humble and Gordon Buchanan will visit remote areas in this vulnerable, icy region to find out what life is really like on top of the world, and how climate change is drastically reshaping the region.

Research shows a temporary cooling of the Antarctic Peninsula
Research shows a temporary cooling of the Antarctic Peninsula

The vast and beautiful Arctic spans eight countries and more than five million square miles of frozen ocean. The show will feature visits to Alaska, Greenland, Russia, Norway and Sweden.  The documentary will also have a live broadcast from Canada’s Churchill, where polar bears gather in peak season to wait for the sea ice to freeze.

The town, on Hudson Bay, is best known as the Canadian Arctic’s polar bear capital, where hundreds of marine mammals gather on the frozen freshwater in September. A two-and-a-half-day train journey across barren prairies from Manitoba’s capital Winnipeg, Churchill really is on the edge of the wilderness.

A polar bear in the water at Churchill
A polar bear in the water at Churchill.   Image by Renato Granieri/PA

Climate change causing melting sea ice is increasingly forcing the bears on to dry land. Every autumn they’re spotted around the shores of Hubbard Point and sometimes venture closer to the townof Churchill.

The town has had problems with polar bears coming into contact with humans and, as viewers will see on Arctic Live, an alert team known locally as the Polar Bear Cops sometimes have to jump into action to scare them away.

A 900lb male being airlifted from the polar bear jail
A 900lb male being airlifted from the polar bear jail.  Image by BBC

Any repeat offenders end up in D20, the local “polar bear jail”, where they’ll remain until they can be safely transferred to more remote wilds. The stay is usually up to 30 days before release further up the coast, which is usually done by helicopter.

A bear being released back into the wild
A bear being released back into the wild.  Image by BBC

Hudson Bay is also where the world’s largest gathering of the whale species happens, as 59,000 beluga whales congregate to feed on capelin fish. Word is slowly spreading about the range of beluga-related tourist activities on offer, such as kayaking alongside the whales. But hugely impacting all the animal species and communities in the areas featured on Arctic Life is climate change.

Presenter Simon experienced the effects of climate change first-hand while flying above Greenland’s ice sheet as part of an ice patrol looking for rogue icebergs drifting into shipping lines.

Churchill
Churchill at dusk.   Image by Renato Granieri/PA

He said: “At 656,000 square miles and on average a mile thick, the ice sheet is vast in a way we can’t understand. Seeing it from a chopper, extending beyond the curve of the planet, was a genuinely emotional moment.

“Scientists reckon a trillion tons has melted in the last five years, and if that continues then sea levels could rise by seven metres. That’s a planetary-changing event.”


Arctic Live begins on Tuesday night at 8pm on BBC Two.

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