Episode 6 Blow Your Mind


Episode 6

Dr Chris and Dr Xand are in Greenland to learn about glaciers and icebergs. They leave their camp and head out across the high Arctic seas.


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Transcript


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We are Dr Chris and Dr Xand van Tulleken

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and we're tracking down the most awesome, incredible

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and epic things in the universe!

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Come with us and discover unbelievable things...

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that will blow your mind!

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Blow Your Mind will be bringing you loads of top experts

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and scientists to help you find out more about some amazing stuff,

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from the Arctic to elephants, spaceships to sharks,

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and this week it's all about ice. Yes, frozen water.

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So hold on to your brains!

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Here's what's coming up.

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We leave our camp above the glacier in Greenland

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and take to the iceberg-infested, high Arctic seas

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in the good ship Neptune.

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We're in search of the biggest, most gigantic object

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afloat in the Arctic Ocean

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and, finally, it appears out of the mist.

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The Petermann Iceberg, a mind-blowingly enormous megaberg.

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This looks like it's shaping up to be an amazing afternoon.

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I really want to see what it's like on this megaberg.

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I'm glad you're up for more of our icy adventures, Xand.

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It was fascinating seeing how bergs are born.

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I want to see what happens to them once they're free

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and floating in the ocean.

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That's what we wanted to do as well.

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It was a big move from the glacier to the bergs.

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There were a lot of us involved and a lot of equipment

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but we were all looking forward to seeing our new home.

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Here are the intrepid team members who headed for the berg.

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Chris Packham, wildlife and nature expert.

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Expedition doctor and all-round brave guy, me.

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Helen Czerski, physicist and oceanographer.

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Richard Bates, geophysicist and ice expert.

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Ragi Elson, Arctic sailor and the ship's captain.

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Myself and the team, scientists, camera crews and explorers,

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had swapped our beautiful glacier camp in Greenland

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for research vessel Neptune, a ship well-used to the Arctic waters.

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Neptune, its crew and skipper, had sailed down from Iceland

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to join the expedition,

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bringing with them years of experience sailing these seas.

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We were all about to set off across the Arctic Ocean

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on an ambitious two-week expedition

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to find a colossal megaberg on which to carry out more research.

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I think we just need to think through that plan, now.

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We were heading across these waters in search of an experience

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every bit as exciting, exhilarating and dangerous

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as our time on Store Glacier.

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That boat looks pretty serious, Chris. It's like a big, proper ship.

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Did it have to be that big to take all the gear?

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Well, we had got an incredible amount of kit

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but Neptune was a proper research ship and the skipper, Ragi Elson,

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was really experienced in those waters.

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It can be dangerous. You need someone who knows exactly

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what they're doing when sailing that close to icebergs.

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So did you just sail about until you found a suitable

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-iceberg and then just jump on?

-Erm, not quite.

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The team already had a particular megaberg in mind

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and a good idea of what they wanted to find out.

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Take a look at this.

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The team had identified their target.

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In 2010, in the northwest corner of Greenland,

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an absolutely enormous piece of ice broke off the Petermann Glacier.

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Over two years, it then drifted south on the ocean currents.

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Vast chunks had broken off on four occasions.

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One of the biggest pieces was now over 1,000 kilometres

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from where it broke away from its mother glacier.

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It was stuck off the coast of Canada's Baffin Island.

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One of the scientists, Richard Bates, already knew this ice.

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So you've stood on this piece of ice before?

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That's right, yeah, back in 2009 we were up here.

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So before it actually broke off,

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we were there doing measurements on it, around it.

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This crack carried on around the back here,

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and this crack worked in its way towards it

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and broke that off as one chunk,

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and that is the iceberg that is working its way south.

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For the team, there was one key mystery they wanted to explain.

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That was, what are the processes which would lead

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to this massive piece of ice getting smaller and smaller

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and eventually disappearing into the ocean?

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The ocean has a huge amount of energy pushing and pulling

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and twisting, and I'm really interested to see how the

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iceberg stands up to all of those stresses.

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That's amazing, that one of the team had been on that ice before.

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I really liked that graphic.

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It really made it easy to understand the glacier

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and how the iceberg was born and just how absolutely enormous it is.

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I think it's like having your own speeded-up camera

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positioned in space.

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Yeah. Now, if the berg is as huge as all that

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and they think it's somewhere off the coast of Baffin Island,

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then it should be quite easy to find, I would think.

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Right, do you have any idea how big Baffin Island is?

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-About the size of the Isle of Wight?

-OK, well think of it like this.

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The whole of Great Britain, from Land's End in Cornwall

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to Muckle Flugga in Shetland, the very north of Scotland,

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is 1,580 kilometres.

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Baffin Island is almost exactly the same size,

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so it's quite a big area to search.

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That is a big area! I hope they find it!

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After 36 hours at sea, looming out of the fog,

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we eventually saw an absolutely incredible wall of ice.

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At last, we had found our goal.

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There it is!

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It looks very frightening to me.

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It's full of cracks and fissures and cliffs and rivers.

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There's a huge river coming off.

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And it looks entirely without life,

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an inhospitable lump of freezing, fresh water floating in sea water.

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It's just a stunning sight.

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I've never seen a single piece of ice that is this big.

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It's an absolutely amazing sight.

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This was the iceberg the team planned to board and explore.

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It was criss-crossed with crevasses, huge cracks and melt rivers,

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and for two years it had been the largest, floating object

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in the Arctic seas.

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It even had a name.

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The Petermann Iceberg.

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Wow! That thing is colossal! I never imagined it would be that big.

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I mean, it makes the ship look like a tiny, little toy!

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Imagine how I felt when that appeared out of the mist.

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It looked like a continent.

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So how massive is it, exactly? Did you measure it?

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For something that size, you need a bit more than a tape measure!

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There's a lot of specialised equipment involved.

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-Do you want to see how we did it?

-Course I do! It's incredible!

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As soon as we arrived, it was action stations.

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We've got the funny angles...

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Our first task was to scan the berg.

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The scanning equipment would reveal the iceberg's size

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both above and below water

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but to get accurate results, we needed to sail all the way around it

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and the nearer the ship was to the berg, the better the results.

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15 metres towards the iceberg, if the captain's happy with that.

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The ship's captain was very cautious, and for good reasons.

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Icebergs are amazingly unstable and unpredictable.

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Smaller ones can suddenly roll over and, without warning,

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can completely shatter.

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That's why the expedition team picked the Petermann Iceberg.

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It's big, it's flat and, we hoped, more stable.

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This was especially important when we were sailing

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so close to its edge for the scan.

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So, once they have the scanner in the water, they have to sail

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right around the berg to collect all the information they need, right?

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Right. That's it, Xand, bang on. Then they feed all the data

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into computers, which turn it into images

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that you and I can understand.

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Chris Packham got to grips with the results

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with scientist Richard Bates.

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As well as being a geophysicist, Richard is an imaging expert

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and he has turned the results of the berg scan into a 3D image.

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He found that the bit of the iceberg under the water

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was nine times bigger than the bit above the water.

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The results also enabled Richard to estimate the iceberg's size

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reasonably accurately and the result is amazing.

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OK, so we've measured the circumference.

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It's about 27km around.

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We've measured the thickness all around,

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and we've got an average of about 70, 75 metres of thickness.

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It gives us a volume of about 2 billion metres cubed

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of ice in there.

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2 billion metres cubed?!

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2 billion metres cubed! That's difficult to get your head around.

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That's roughly the same as 2 billion tonnes in weight.

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That's hard to get your head around, too! This might be easier.

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If you melted it all in the biggest pan ever made, it would be the

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same as 2 trillion litres of water.

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And if that's still too hard, it's enough water to supply

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the whole of the United Kingdom for 200 days.

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That's enough water for every single person in the country. Wow!

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Xand.

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Xand!

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I'm going to have to call a doctor if you don't respond.

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CROWD: You are a doctor!

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Yes, I am. Xand!

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Oh, sorry, Chris.

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I'm just completely gobsmacked by that. I mean, what is a trillion?

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I know it's a lot but how much is it?

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Do you really want to know? It might set you off again.

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Nope, I'll be fine, just hit me with it.

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OK, stick with me.

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Hold the board.

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Now, 1,000 is a one with three zeros, OK?

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A million is a thousand thousands, so that's one with six zeros.

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A billion is a thousand million. That's a one with nine zeros.

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And a trillion is a thousand billions,

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so that's one with 12 zeros behind it.

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And remember,

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we're talking about two of those.

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2 trillion litres of water floating around in the ocean, frozen solid.

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No wonder my mind was blown cos it is mind-blowing!

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Can we see more?

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Yes, of course.

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The scan results also revealed something else.

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An unexpected problem.

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The position of the ship related to the position of the iceberg

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seemed to be changing all the time.

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According to your diagram, we're in the middle of the iceberg,

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which can only mean one thing to me and that is that it's moved.

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Exactly.

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It was a shock. The team chose this berg

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because they thought it had gone aground

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and, therefore, it wasn't moving.

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Instead, it looked like the opposite.

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It was on the move.

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We needed to put more equipment onto the actual iceberg to try

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and keep a track of its shifting position but the bigger problem was

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that the skipper, Ragi, had to dock the ship against a moving target.

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HE SPEAKS IN HIS LANGUAGE

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So hang on, the glaciology team chose the Petermann Iceberg

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-because they thought it was grounded and not moving.

-That's right.

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-But it is moving.

-Yes.

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Whoa, so that must have been difficult to get on.

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Must be hard enough getting on an iceberg

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when it is standing still, let alone when it's moving around.

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-How did you do it?

-With a lot of difficulty.

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There's loads of danger from the ice

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and a lot of precision sailing from Ragi, the skipper of the ship.

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Ice isn't the only danger in this part of the world

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but you'll have to wait until next time

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to find out what the other danger was.

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I hate it when you do this! You get me all interested and excited

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and then you tell me I have to wait!

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You're not alone. Everyone else has to wait, too,

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and it's really worth waiting for, I can tell you.

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-Well, can you at least give us a hint?

-Erm, OK.

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One of the dangers is furry with big teeth and claws.

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A penguin.

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No, wait. A lion.

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No, Xand. But I'll tell all later,

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so join Xand and me for more stuff that will blow your mind!

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Dr Chris and Dr Xand continue to find out more from the team of experts and explorers in Greenland. In this episode, they leave their camp high above Store Glacier and head out across the high Arctic seas in the good ship Neptune. They are in search of the amazing sight that is the Petermann iceberg. At a gigantic two billion tonnes of ice, it is the biggest object afloat in the northern ocean. They attempt the difficult and dangerous task of docking the ship to the berg. The ship's captain Ragi is under pressure, as his target is moving.


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