Preview: Frozen Planet II

Frozen Planet II

Antarctica is the most hostile of all Earth’s frozen worlds. Yet, even here, amongst some of the most challenging conditions on the planet, life finds a way to thrive.

Our journey begins at the far edge of the continent, on its far-flung sub-Antarctic islands. Here we meet king penguins that must face the danger of ferocious leopard seals lurking in the shallows to feed at sea.

On another island we film, for the first time for a TV documentary, the male Antipodean wandering albatross partnering up with each other, as the females in their population are disappearing due to fishing activity.

Heading towards the continent of Antarctica we traverse the Southern Ocean where we meet the rarely filmed Antarctic blue whale, the largest animal to have ever lived. At the edge of Antarctica the sea is so cold the ocean freezes over, creating a vital ice platform for a mother Weddell seal to raise her precious pup. Still she needs to protect him from aggressive males.

In spring the coast of Antarctica is free of snow and draws in thousands of breeding chinstrap penguins. Stones are at a premium, as they need them for building elevated nests and protecting their chicks from meltwater. Stealing is commonplace and, with increased meltwater due to a warming Antarctica to make things worse, today we find chicks shivering with hypothermia. Other residents are facing an uncertain future too, including wave-washing killer whales. We discover that their favourite prey, Weddell seals, are now harder to reach.

Antarctica is one the most volcanic regions on Earth. Travelling into its frozen heart we find great surprises. We reveal unexpected sand dunes hidden in a rare ice-free valley which is the driest place on Earth. Then, on the exposed mountain-tops, sticking out from the otherwise ice-covered interior, we find tiny snow petrels which raise their chicks further south than any other bird, and defend their territory by projectile vomit.

The greatest revelation lies deep in the interior, beneath the surface of an ice-covered lake, where we discover giant stromatolites. These are ancient alien-like structures built by primitive lifeforms. If life can make it here in the extremes of Antarctica, it raises the possibility that life can exist elsewhere in the frozen lakes of distant planets.

Frozen Planet II – Sunday at 8.00pm on BBC One.

Image: BBC Studios.