OUR PLANET HAS SURVIVED FIVE MASS EXTINCTIONS
SMITHSONIAN CHANNEL™ AND TANGLED BANK STUDIOS PARTNER TO INVESTIGATE WHETHER WE ARE ON THE BRINK OF A SIXTH
MASS EXTINCTION: LIFE AT THE BRINK
PREMIERES SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 30 AT 8PM ET/PT
Acclaimed Actor Jeffrey Wright
To Narrate One-Hour Television Special
New York, NY, September 17, 2014 – It’s a mystery on a global scale: five times in Earth’s past, life has been nearly extinguished, the vast majority of plants and animals annihilated in a geologic instant. What triggered these dramatic events? And what might they tell us about the fate of our world? MASS EXTINCTION: LIFE AT THE BRINK, narrated by Jeffrey Wright, a new one-hour special premiering Sunday, November 30 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel, is produced by Tangled Bank Studios, the film and television unit of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI).
The program joins scientists around the globe in search of answers to two of the most dramatic mass extinctions: the “K/T Extinction,” which wiped out the dinosaurs, and “The Great Dying,” which 250 million years ago annihilated nearly 90% of all Earth’s species. These early mass extinctions could hold clues for what may be happening today.
University of California, Berkeley Paleontologist Anthony Barnosky suspects that the wheels may already be in motion to trigger the sixth mass extinction. Only this time, instead of volcanoes or asteroids, humans are the trigger. In bones of ancient animals, in tidal pools in California, and in forests in Yellowstone National Park, the evidence is mounting. As humans reduce habitat for other species and alter the atmosphere, we are pushing plants and animals toward extinction around 12 times faster than normal rates. But Barnosky, author of the new book Dodging Extinction, says it is not too late to halt that trend.
At first glance, the two earlier extinctions couldn’t look more different. As illustrated with gripping animation, a six-mile-wide asteroid spelled near-instant doom for the dinosaurs. And as new research covered in the film shows, it was massive volcanic eruptions – which spewed enough molten rock to bury an area the size of the continental U.S. under 1,000 feet of lava – that altered the chemistry of the atmosphere and ocean to trigger “The Great Dying.” As different as they seem, these two extinctions share uncanny similarities — and a message for today. Could the impact of human beings be just as devastating to the planet as a massive asteroid strike or volcanic eruptions?
“There couldn’t be a more relevant scientific story for today,” says David Royle, Executive Vice-President of Programming and Production, Smithsonian Channel. “This is a fascinating story about our deep past that touches and informs our present and future.”
“What’s really valuable about comparing these past mass extinctions is they were caused by totally different triggers,” says leading scientist and science communicator Sean B. Carroll. “An asteroid from above or volcanism from beneath. But they had very similar effects in terms of catastrophic destruction of ecosystems around the world. And there is a really simple lesson that is relevant today, which is, if environmental change is great enough, fast enough, and on a global scale, the entire planet is in trouble.”
“Because the planet’s mass extinctions happened tens of millions of years ago, identifying what caused them is quite a scientific detective story,” says Michael Rosenfeld, head of television and film for Tangled Bank Studios. “And so is solving the mystery of whether we are living through another mass extinction.”
Among the other experts interviewed in MASS EXTINCTION: LIFE AT THE BRINK are Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and Elizabeth Hadly, senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and professor of biology and of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University.
MASS EXTINCTION: LIFE AT THE BRINK is produced by Tangled Bank Studios for Smithsonian Channel. Executive producers for Tangled Bank Studios are Sean B. Carroll and Michael Rosenfeld. Sarah Holt is the producer, director and writer. Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel are Charles Poe and David Royle.
Source: ©2014 Smithsonian Channel. All Rights Reserved.
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