Hottest Place On Earth

8:30pm Monday, October 19 on Prime

Documentary Series

In the village of Kusra Wad, Ethiopia, Kate, Steve and Mukul are invited to an Afar wedding, and Steve joins in the violent, no-rules rugby game of korso. Mukul monitors how Steve’s body performs in the searing heat, and tends to the blisters he suffers from playing barefoot. Later they join up with Dougal, Richard and Sue to hike to the top of Erta Ale volcano. Inside the crater is the oldest-known lava lake on the planet, a boiling mass of molten rock. It is the expedition’s ultimate goal, and nothing has prepared them for the breathtaking sight at the top of Erta Ale.

Dougal uses reflectors and scanning equipment to attempt a full 3D scan from the rim, while Richard prepares to take a sample of molten lava from the lake itself, to search for signs of life. To complete his scan, Dougal has to be lowered into the crater itself with a thermal imaging camera. Once on the inner shelf, he attempts one more experiment, venturing to the edge of the magma pit, where the earth’s crust is dangerously thin, to throw a thermometer attached to a probe into the lava. The series ends with the team members reflecting on their experiences, with a look at the fruits of Dougal’s scans of the Erta Ale crater – a unique snapshot in time of the world’s oldest volcano – and with the results of the DNA testing of Richard’s soil samples, which have provided more insight into the Earth’s biological diversity than he had dared hope for.

Steve sums up the Danakil experience: “The people, the landscape, everything… hard as nails – absolutely fantastic!”

The hapless European envoys who ventured to his court to forge alliances were not so attuned to Tewodros’s capricious nature and, like Kerans, had to learn the hard way. When the British consul Charles Cameron presented himself to the king in 1862, he was greeted with a spectacular display of pageantry. Cannons boomed from the hills and ministers wearing lion’s-mane coats made him welcome in a sumptuously furnished black tent. Cameron was informed that 500 prisoners had been decapitated “in order to win the friendship of Her Majesty”. Tewodros, it seems, tried to keep an open mind about his visitors given that in the past he had formed a close bond with a  named John Bell who went native, married a local woman and served as the king’s right-hand man. But Tewodros did not take to Cameron and when the British consul and his Whitehall superiors bungled diplomatic etiquette, the king clapped him in shackles. A three-man rescue party sent to negotiate Cameron’s release faired little better, and by 1866 “the tufty-cheeked mandarins of the foreign office” faced a hostage situation in a far-off country about which they cared little as long as the French didn’t get their hands on it.

The hapless European envoys who ventured to his court to forge alliances were not so attuned to Tewodros’s capricious nature and, like Kerans, had to learn the hard way. When the British consul Charles Cameron presented himself to the king in 1862, he was greeted with a spectacular display of pageantry. Cannons boomed from the hills and ministers wearing lion’s-mane coats made him welcome in a sumptuously furnished black tent. Cameron was informed that 500 prisoners had been decapitated “in order to win the friendship of Her Majesty”. Tewodros, it seems, tried to keep an open mind about his visitors given that in the past he had formed a close bond with a  named John Bell who went native, married a local woman and served as the king’s right-hand man. But Tewodros did not take to Cameron and when the British consul and his Whitehall superiors bungled diplomatic etiquette, the king clapped him in shackles. A three-man rescue party sent to negotiate Cameron’s release faired little better, and by 1866 “the tufty-cheeked mandarins of the foreign office” faced a hostage situation in a far-off country about which they cared little as long as the French didn’t get their hands on it.

8:30pm Monday, October 12 on Prime

Documentary Series

It is morning in the village of Kusra Wad, and Steve and Richard meet the village chief and his camels. He gives them warm camel’s milk to drink, and Steve explains how camels are essential to the Afar’s survival. Dougal, Richard and Sue set off on a three-day drive to the fissures of Dabbahu to view the newest geological phenomenon on the planet. The earth’s crust is ripping apart, allowing volcanoes to shoot to the surface. Just two years ago, a series of earthquakes formed a vast new fissure, literally overnight. The aim is to descend into the fissure to take samples, which will be tested for new forms of life. No-one has attempted this before. As Dougal and the others continue their journey to Dabbahu, Steve continues to work with the Afar’s animals in Kusra Wad village, putting a GPS tracking device on a goat to see how it fends for itself in this most hostile environment. Kate attempts to learn about the lives of the Afar women, talking to them with the help of Australian nurse Valerie Browning – herself something of a phenomenon, having made her home in this extraordinary place some 20 years ago. Kate finds the constant presence of the Afar men inhibits the women’s ability to speak out about the hardship of their lives. Mukul tends to two sick children, and is devastated to find that one of them has a heart murmur that he is unable to treat in situ.

8:30pm Monday, October 5 on Prime

Documentary Series

In this BBC series, a team of experts are on a mission to explore the hottest, harshest, yet scientifically one of the richest areas on Earth – the Danakil Depression in northern Ethiopia.

Despite boasting exceptional geology, an extraordinary climate, a distinctive tribal community and logic-defying wildlife, virtually nothing is known of this unforgiving region.

The Hottest Place on Earth brings together a team of top scientists and international experts to take part in a cutting-edge, multi-discipline mission to explore one of the least known but most fascinating regions on the planet. For the first time volcanologists, climatologists, anthropologists, medics and vets will work together to build a complete picture of this phenomenal province and the miraculous people and animals that survive there.

EPISODE ONE: After an eight-hour, bone-shaking drive across rocky terrain to the point where vehicles can go no further, the team sets off in 43º heat on a three-day walk with a camel-train to Dallol. They are following the salt caravan route; up to 2,000 camels a day have been making this epic journey for 10,000 years, to bring salt from the Dallol mines to the markets.

En route the team doctor Mukul treats a camel-herder, who is suffering from kidney stones due to dehydration and a crew member suffers heat exhaustion. Scientist Dougal examines rocks and fault zones, and explains how the rift system is forming a new ocean. As night falls the team experience the firewind, which blows at 46º and from which there is no escape.