In a break from the ‘all Bernie, all the time’ mode that this blog has been in recently, I want to alert readers to the PBS documentary series Nova that has produced a fascinating two-hour documentary titled Polar Extremes about how the polar regions have experienced dramatic shifts during the history of the Earth. There have been periods when the poles had warm climates and consisted of swamps and forests and at other times when the entire Earth was covered with a sheet of ice.
In this two-hour special, renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson takes us on an epic adventure through time at the polar extremes of our planet.
Following a trail of strange fossils found in all the wrong places—beech trees in Antarctica, hippo-like mammals in the Arctic—Johnson uncovers the bizarre history of the poles, from miles-high ice sheets to warm polar forests teeming with life. What caused such dramatic changes at the ends of the Earth? And what can the past reveal about our planet’s climate today—and in the future?
I cannot embed the video link but you can see the documentary in full here.
What I liked most about the show was its structure. Johnson would take a surprising finding in the Antarctic, such as a fossil of a leaf from deciduous tree, and ask how it got there. Searching for an answer to that question leads to more questions, that leads to more exploration and testing, that leads to more discoveries, and so on. It looks at how scientists investigate the conditions that far back in time and what they can infer about what might happen in the future. It is a beautiful example of scientific research and inquiry-based learning.
The documentary also does a fine job of blending spectacular footage taken from all over the world with computer-generated recreations of what the Earth was like during the various periods when the poles fluctuated from being frozen to having temperate climates.
The first two-thirds looks at what we know about the deep history of the Earth and the final third takes a more somber turn as it examines the current trends in global warning and where it might lead if we do not take action now.
I have already watched the show twice and plan to watch it more times because there is a lot of rich information in it that I cannot absorb with just one or two viewings.