Earth: The Power Of The Planet

DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL – Saturdays from 3 April, 8.30pm

This landmark series uses specialist imaging and compelling narrative to tell the life story of our planet, how it works, and what makes it so special. Earth: The Power Of The Planet is a comprehensive history of the living Earth and how all its systems work together to maintain our unique and extraordinary planet. Examining the great forces that shape the Earth – volcanoes, the ocean, the atmosphere and ice – Earth: The Power Of The Planet also explores their central roles in our planet’s story. How do these forces affect the Earth’s landscape, its climate, and its history? Earth: The Power of the Planet shows the Earth in new and surprising ways. Extensive use of satellite imagery reveals new views of our planet, while timelapse filmed over many months brings the planet to life. Witness a glacier flowing like a river towards the sea and a lava dome growing inside a volcano. Scientific sensors reveal the Earth’s secrets, including a gravity anomaly map that reveals the meteorite crater that killed off the dinosaurs. Offering a balance between dramatic visuals and illuminating facts, this groundbreaking series makes global science truly compelling.

EP1 – VOLCANO: Volcanoes have a fearsome reputation. In reality, they are the most important force in the creation of the planet as we know it today. Abseiling into a lava lake and cave-diving in a cenote, this episode shows how the heat that fuels volcanoes also drives some of the most fundamental processes on the planet.

7:30pm Friday, March 26 on Prime

Science

Tonight on Earth The Power Of The Planet we take a look at the big picture of Earth’s place in space. It has taken four-and-a-half billion years and several great catastrophes to turn it from a barren rock to the unique planet we know today.

7:30pm Friday, March 19 on Prime

Science

Oceans

Travelling from Hawaii to the Amazon and Ethiopia and then on to the Mediterranean, this episode tells the story of the oceans – fierce waves, huge tidal bores, global currents and the future dangers of global warming.

8:35pm Sunday, August 30 on Prime

Documentary Series

Dr Iain Stewart tells the story of how Earth works and how, over the course of 4.6 billion years, it came to be the remarkable place it is today.

Rare Earth: This final episode explores the Earth’s place in space. Our planet is unique in the solar system, perhaps even in the universe. It’s taken four and a half billions years to turn the Earth from a barren rock to the planet we know today. It’s been an incredible journey of catastrophe and renewal. But now this rare and remarkable planet is facing its greatest challenge – us. The question is, will it survive?

Iain explores the remarkable events that have created this unique planet. When Earth was first formed, it seems that it had a twin. A second planet (called Theia) was born in the same orbit as the Earth. The outcome was a catastrophic collision, which destroyed Theia and changed the destiny of our planet.

Some of Theia was absorbed into the Earth, which increased its gravity as a result. This enhanced gravity allowed the Earth to hold on to a rich, dense atmosphere. Mars, which also started life with an atmosphere, is much smaller than the Earth and over time its weaker gravity allowed its atmosphere to leak into space.

So much of what makes our planet so special is down to its atmosphere. Iain travels to Meteor Crater in Arizona, and to the barren Nullabor Plain in South Australia to explore the atmosphere’s vital role in protecting us from continual bombardment from meteorites. The debris left over from the collision eventually coalesced to form our moon. And it’s thanks to the moon that Earth has a stable climate with regular seasons.

Earth has benefited from other remarkable pieces of good fortune. We orbit just the right kind of sun to support complex life, and we’re just the right distance from it. We even have the right neighbours. Strange as it may seem, Jupiter plays a vital role in keeping Earth a home for life. Its huge gravitational field attracts meteorites that might otherwise strike Earth.

An environment that remains relatively stable is essential for complex life to survive. But there’s a curious twist. Too much stability and life can get stuck in a bit of a rut. Every now and then, evolution needs a catastrophe to shake up things up.

In the jungles of Mexico, Iain discovers the legacy of one of the greatest catastrophes the Earth has ever experienced. The jungle is littered with strange flooded caverns called cenotes. Diving in these caves, Iain discovers that they are all joined up, and they mark out the rim of a giant meteorite impact crater. This was the meteorite impact that wiped out the dinosaurs.

But the impact has left its mark in other ways. Iain dives in spectacular flooded caverns called cenotes that are a legacy of that long-ago disaster.

Stunning computer graphics re-create this impact, including the rain of molten rock that would have descended through the atmosphere, super-heating it to hundreds of degrees and killing most life on the planet.

But devastating as this impact was, it was in some respects a blessing in disguise. By destroying the dinosaurs it cleared the way for the rise of a new type of animal – the mammals. And ultimately for us.

8:30pm Sunday, August 23 on Prime

Documentary Series

Dr Iain Stewart tells the story of how Earth works and how, over the course of 4.6 billion years, it came to be the remarkable place it is today.

Oceans: The oceans are almost as ancient as the planet itself; when you look out over the sea you are looking at a view that is unchanged for billions of years. But the oceans are far more than just huge reservoirs of water. They have transformed our planet. Their brute force carves the coastline. And they can leave an extraordinary legacy. They transfer energy around the planet. And drive the climate.

Above all, we are now beginning to understand how the oceans are connected by an incredible network of currents. They’re so critical to the health of our world that when they failed it led to the greatest extinction in Earth’s history.

Iain’s journey begins on Hawaii. Here he shows how the oceans capture and store energy from the wind – eventually delivering it to the coastline and creating some of the most powerful waves on the planet.

In the Amazon, Iain rides the biggest, longest tidal bore in the world, to demonstrate how the oceans also capture energy from gravity – in this case the gravitational pull of the sun and moon.

Put the energy of the wind together with the energy of the highest tides, and you have one of the most destructive forces in the world. The whole of Earth’s history has been an epic struggle between land and sea.

8:35pm Sunday, August 16 on Prime

Documentary Series

Dr Iain Stewart tells the story of how Earth works and how, over the course of 4.6 billion years, it came to be the remarkable place it is today.

Ice: Ice may be nothing more than frozen water, but it holds extraordinary power. Since human beings have been on the planet, nothing has done more than ice to shape our world. It has carved the landscape and unleashed terrible catastrophes. It’s even changed the course of human evolution. Now it may threaten our future.

Iain is introduced to the world of ice 150 metres up a frozen waterfall. His precarious ice climb brings him face to face with one of the most amazing substances on Earth. It may only be frozen water, but it has extraordinary power.

When it forms glaciers it has the power to carve through solid rock. Several months of footage compressed into just a few seconds shows a glacier in motion – a sliding river of ice. Iain climbs down into a crevasse in a glacier to show how over several years snow gradually turns into ice.

In Antarctica, we discover an entire continent buried by ice. Buried beneath this vast world of ice is one of the world’s largest lakes – a body of water cut off from the rest of the planet since before the human race evolved.

In Manhattan we see how ice has shaped one of the greatest cities in the world – and clever CG shows what Manhattan would once have looked like covered in a mile high column of ice.

But ice does more than shape the Earth. Its peculiar properties mean that small changes in the Earth’s temperature can be amplified massively. This amplification means that ice ages are times of massive climate change – and that helps drive evolution. In fact, ice played a crucial role in our own evolution, by creating many sudden climate changes in East Africa at a time when our ancestors were struggling to make a living.

There is now no doubt that the world’s ice is melting. As it goes it will cause the biggest change in the appearance of the planet since the dawn of human civilisation.

8:35pm Sunday, August 9 on Prime

Documentary Series

Dr Iain Stewart tells the story of how Earth works and how, over the course of 4.6 billion years, it came to be the remarkable place it is today.

Atmosphere: You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it and you can’t touch it, yet without it almost all life on Earth would die instantly. The atmosphere is Earth’s protective layer, cloaking it in a warm, wet embrace, warding off damaging cosmic rays and providing the life giving oxygen which we depend on for our very lives.

Iain starts his journey of discovery by taking a flight in a jet fighter that can fly beyond the lower layer of the atmosphere into the stratosphere. He uses this flight to introduce the four key layers in the atmosphere, and the vital roles each layer plays.

Air is a fluid which shapes our world, from eroding rocks to building sand dunes. But its importance goes beyond this – it controls the world’s weather and climate, and to illustrate this Iain takes us to Argentina, one of the stormiest places on the planet, to watch a storm build throughout a day.

The greatest role of the atmosphere is to sustain life. It supplies us with the oxygen we breathe, and without it life on Earth would never have advanced beyond the level of slime.

But our atmosphere is completely different from any other planets – and according to the normal laws of chemistry it shouldn’t exist. What is extraordinary about our atmosphere is the way that it has been created by life. When our planet was first born, its atmosphere was made up of noxious volcanic gases – there was no sign of the oxygen we depend on today.

Iain visits Shark Bay in Australia, home to some of the most ancient forms of life on the planet – stromatolites. These simple bacteria were responsible for transforming the atmosphere, because they were the first organisms on the planet to photosynthesise and in doing so pump oxygen into the air.

Life has been transforming the Earth ever since – it helps regulate the temperature, keeps the atmosphere full of oxygen and stops the oceans disappearing into space. And it also sets a limit on the very existence of our species as Iain discovers in a village high in the Andes where women are unable to carry children to full term because of its effects at this altitude.

Sunday 2nd August 8.30pm

Documentary Series

This landmark, five-part BBC series uses specialist imaging and compelling narrative to tell the life story of our planet, how it works, and what makes it so special. New Zealand viewers will find tonight’s episode on volcanoes of particular interest since Rotorua is featured very heavily.

EPISODE ONE – No force has played a more important role in creating the planet we know today than volcanoes.

Dr Iain Stewart’s story begins in Ethiopia at the extraordinary volcano that is Erta Ale. Iain abseils down to the edge of one of only two lava lakes on Earth. It’s a bubbling, seething cauldron of molten lava. This volcano offers a dramatic illustration of the heat that lies just beneath the Earth’s surface – heat that fuels volcanoes, but also drives some of the most fundamental process on the planet.

He then travels to Rotorua where Iain explores how volcanoes have played a critical role in keeping the planet habitable. Early in the Earth’s history the sun burned less brightly than it does today. The planet was kept warm because the early Earth was highly volcanic, and all those eruptions poured out huge amounts of carbon dioxide. A natural form of global warming meant the planet stayed warm enough for early life to evolve. And it was most probably at volcanic hot springs similar to Rotorua that life first evolved.

Iain explains the critical role that the Earth’s inner heat plays in shaping the Earth; without it Earth would be a waterworld, completely covered in a 4km deep ocean. New land is being continually created by the collision of the plates – a process which leads to violent earthquakes, and to the formation of great mountain ranges. The Earth’s inner heat fuels the movement of the plates, and it is this that counters the forces of erosion. Without the movement of the plates, the Earth wouldn’t have a land surface at all.

The Earth’s inner heat shapes our world. It raises up great mountains, it levels cities, it creates new land, and destroys it too, it powers the evolution of life on Earth, and helps maintain the temperature of the planet. Without it the Earth would have become a dead planet millions of years ago.