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People You Should Know: Polar Explorer Mark Terry

Predictions of rapidly increasing sea levels washing away coastal cities, the extinction of various animal species and the prospect of more severe weather systems provide a rather bleak forecast of the future but local documentary filmmaker and explorer Mark Terry believes providing hope is the only way to spur the world to action when it comes to global warming.

Terry and his crew documented the effects of climate change in the Polar Regions, most recently in the far north. He captured stunning new images of the melting poles, from colossal ice islands created by a thawing Greenland glacier to new vegetation thriving in the now more clement areas of Antarctica.

The Clipper Adventurer stranded in pack ice, Neko Harbour. Production still from “The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning”.

From left, Rob Smith, Roger Stilwell (polar field assistants) and Dr. Julian Scott and Dr. Andy Smith (both glaciologists)from the British Antarctic Survey at Pine Island Glacier. Production still from “The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning”.

“People always say ‘what’s your agenda with all of this stuff?’ We don’t have an agenda. We like to be very journalistic and maintain our objectivity,” he said.

“If anything, we’re not out to scare the bejeebers out of people and say we’re all going to die and it’s all your fault and oil companies should go to hell and all that stuff. We’re saying that we’d like to provide a positive outlet and provide some hope because a couple of times in the past this worked.”

Terry, a member of the 106-year-old Explorer’s Club, points to the success of the Montreal Protocol, which was originally signed by 24 nations back in 1987 to stop the use of substances that deplete the ozone layer, including chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). It has now been signed and ratified by 196 nations and the hole in the protective layer around the earth stopped growing for the first time last year.

“That’s a very positive example of how, when we work together, we can affect environmental change for the betterment of all life,” he said.

Last week Terry and his crew returned from a three week journey to the far north to film his upcoming documentary “The Polar Explorer”, due out this spring. (See the trailer at very bottom of this page) They tagged along with a team of ArcticNet scientists aboard the Canadian icebreaker Amundsen as it traveled the waters of the Northwest Passage – a route made more navigable due to the rapid deterioration of ice.

“While we were there we saw something very few people have seen face-to-face and that is the infamous and legendary Petermann Ice Islands. These are known as the world’s biggest icebergs. They are independently floating chunks of ice but they are so large that they have been reclassified as islands rather than bergs,” he said.

In August Canadian scientists discovered a huge portion of the Petermann Glacier on Greenland’s northwest coast had broken off. Weeks later it fractured into several pieces, now known as the Petermann ice islands. Terry and his crew captured the first HD footage of the world’s largest chunk of ice.

“We got in a helicopter and flew over it. We had to go really high up to get the entire breadth of it and then we flew alongside of it,” he said at his midtown office as he pulled up a still image of the frozen mass, roughly five times the size of Manhattan standing approximately 30-storeys high.

He also captured images of another strange phenomenon while charting the waters off Victoria Island.

“This is actually very fascinating because nobody can figure this out. These are individual little balls of ice, somewhere between the size of a mothball and a golf ball. They’re perfectly round and ice but they didn’t form together,” he said, noting the scientist onboard who specializes in ice couldn’t explain it.

“It looked like someone had tipped over a box of Fed Ex Styrofoam chips into the water, that’s how they were moving and yet, they stayed in these unusual patterns too, kind of striated streams … in a circle like a pond.”

Terry’s work at the South Pole has won critical acclaim. “The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning(see the trailer at the bottom of this page) grabbed attention within the film industry last year, winning 10 awards at various international festivals. It also caught the attention of the United Nations. He screened the film at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (COP 15) last year and has been invited to showcase a preview of “The Polar Explorer” to world leaders at COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico next month.

Adelie penguins welcoming ship. Production still from “The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning”.

Tabular iceberg. Production still from “The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning”.

“I’ve always had a fascination with the polar regions,” he said. “But like any kid in Toronto, or anybody in Toronto, it’s very hard to get up there or down there.”

So how did he do it?

Terry’s career path has been an interesting one. Born and bred in East York, he started out as a reporter after completing studies in English and media studies at York University. Then he started up an arts publication called Hollywood Canada. Interestingly, he clinched a deal that got the magazine attached to pizza boxes, boosting ad sales.

He and his wife then purchased the Bayview Playhouse, which was set to be ripped down, and became theatre impresarios. That led to connections with people in the film world and work in that industry. He filmed a documentary called “Clive Barker: The Art of Horror”, which got picked up by Paramount Pictures and that led to a string of projects, including series for the Museum of History in Hong Kong and a documentary chronicling the first 100 years of the Canadian military called “We Stand on Guard”.

Terry is set to receive the Stefansson Medal from the Canadian Chapter of the Explorer’s Club on Oct. 30.

Mark Terry on a particularly warm day in Antarctica. Production still from “The Antarctica Challenge: A Global Warning”.

Anyone you’d like to know? Send your suggestions here.

Others We’ve Introduced You To:

Suresh Joachim, Canada’s #1 World Record-Breaker

Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union

David Anderson, artistic director, Clay & Paper Theatre

Jason Gibbs, biologist and bee researcher

Madeleine McDowell, historian, activist and artist

Midwife Manavi Handa


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