La Glace et le ciel, le dernier film de Luc Jacquet

On the rocks

Luc Jacquet’s new film Ice and the Sky

The Director of March of the Penguins, Luc Jacquet, has made a stunning new film centred on the lifetime’s work of visionary glaciologist, Dr Claude Lorius. Ice and the Sky reveals how he discovered irrefutable proof of global warming in Antarctica, sparked off while taking a whisky with ice.

Interminable expanses of snow and ice form the only backdrop. High winds skim the flat surface. Harsh sunshine is interrupted by lengthy blizzards. It’s both beautiful and bleak.

La Glace et le ciel, le dernier film de Luc Jacquet

"All you see is the horizon," says French director Luc Jacquet, explaining his fascination with the location, “It’s like a balcony overlooking the world.” He makes light of the conditions: “We were able to film at -57C in ice caves…I like this challenge. I like to be able to capture images in this region where people are not able to go.”

Using the “treasure trove”, as he calls it, of images he dug up in the old climatology laboratory of Dr Claude Lorius in Grenoble, the film is filled with photos and cine film of Lorius’ 20 expeditions, including his first at the age of 23. These are interwoven with shots of the scientist, now 83 years old, at those same sights.

For Jacquet Ice and the Sky is both a warning and a plea for help from all humankind. “I am talking about moral aspects of the question. I can’t still tell stories about nature and animals without telling people there is something very important to do to conserve this planet and this wonderful environment.” And he did it in the harshest place on earth, where -25C is considered a heat wave and ten-day blasts of 200km winds are common.

On thin ice

One evening, while sitting around a table in the ice cave they called home during their expeditions, Lorius and his fellow researchers were having a whisky together. He put a piece of ice (which was thousands of years old) from one of the cores they had drilled out of the glacier into his drink. As the bubbles noisily escaped while it was melting, he was struck by the thought that this air, full of tell-tale gases, might be proof of the atmosphere's past.

La Glace et le ciel, le dernier film de Luc Jacquet

He devoted the next 20 years to proving and developing his hypothesis. One of the world's most important revelations had come out of an afternoon libation. Thanks to this revelation he discovered that the chemical composition of the accumulated, compressed snow allowed him to calculate the exact temperature when it fell. It meant that samples from tens and hundreds of thousands of years ago could be surveyed to get an idea of the rise and fall of temperatures over extended periods of time.

He conducted many deep drilling operations, first to 900 metres, extracting ice that was around 40,000 years old; then, with the help of engineers at a remote but cooperative Soviet base (at the height of the Cold War), drilled to 3,600m and 400,000 years. More recently glaciologists have continued his work and have managed to go back a staggering 800,000 years.

Few people have been able to prove man's impact on global warming the way Lorius has. “The message is incontestable,” he says. In the 200 years since the industrial revolution there has been more change in greenhouse gases than in the previous 400,000. His final words are a gentle call to arms: “Now that you know, what are you going to do?”

Produced by Eskwad and Wild Touch in co-production with Pathé and Kering, the film Ice & Sky is released in France this week.


La Glace et le ciel ©  Eskwad – Wild Touch – Marc Perrey