Strange Days on Planet Earth

Posted: 29 October 2004

National Geographic's environmental documentary series, Strange Days on Planet Earth, has won the coveted Panda Award for Best Series at the 2004 Wildscreen film festival. The second film in the series, The One Degree Factor, came away with the Natural History Museum's One Planet Award for its focus on global warming.

Caribou. Photo: Sea Studios Foundation
Caribou. Photo: Sea Studios Foundation
For decades researchers have been tracking the rise and fall of the porcupine caribou population. While their numbers have varied over the years, recent declines have caused some to question whether global climate change will impact the herd's long-term survival.© Sea Studios Foundation
Wildscreen, which takes place in Bristol, UK, is the world's most prestigious and influential film festival for the wildlife and environmental film-making and the Panda Awards is the industry's equivalent of the Oscars.

Hosted by Edward Norton, the award-winning actor, director, writer and environmental activist, Strange Days on Planet Earth is constructed as a high-tech detective story, with the fate of the planet at stake. Around the globe, scientists are racing to solve a series of mysteries. Unsettling transformations are sweeping across the planet, and clue by clue, investigators around the world are assembling a new picture of Earth, discovering that seemingly disparate events are connected. Crumbling houses in New Orleans are linked to voracious creatures from southern China. Vanishing forests in Yellowstone are linked to the disappearance of wolves. An asthma epidemic in the Caribbean is linked to dust storms in Africa.

Scientists suspect that the earth has entered a period of rapid global change, faster than ever witnessed before. Where are we headed? What can we do to alter this course of events? Each of the four one-hour episodes explores these questions:

Episode 1: Invaders Alien species of plants and animals have invaded every continent. They have enormous powers; they spread disease; they devour our buildings. Some are destroying the very land under our feet. Think of them as the first wave of an assault that could drive the greatest mass extinction since the end of the dinosaurs. What is causing this invasion, and what can we do to stop the rising tide?

Episode 2: The One Degree Factor Detectives usually break mysterious cases when they first see the connections among seemingly unrelated clues. Consider these: Dust clouds are building high over the Atlantic. An entire population of caribou is declining, their numbers dwindling, while other species are pushed to the limits of their physical survival in the oceans. A respiratory illness, once uncommon among children in Trinidad, is now widespread. Amazingly, many scientists now believe that these disparate events may be linked to global climate change.

Episode 3: PredatorsDeep in the wilds of Venezuela, the natural order is being turned inside out. Miles of verdant forest and savannah have given way to small and scattered islands. Some of these islands are now overrun by bands of voracious howler monkeys, a glut of iguanas and hordes of ravenous ants. What is driving this bizarre transformation? A team of scientists believes that life here is running amok; in large part because its top predators are gone. Similarly, the majestic wilderness of Yellowstone National Park is also showing signs of change that some scientists trace to the depletion of natural predators. Familiar and revered forests have vanished. Researchers are linking these forest losses to the expulsion of the gray wolf some 70 years ago. In Venezuela and around the world, experts are learning that predators seem to play a crucial role in the structure and function of entire ecosystems. When the predators disappear, the consequences can be dramatic. If predators are so vital, should they be brought back and can they be?

Episode 4: Troubled Waters In the American heartland there have been strange disappearances. Frogs are vanishing without a trace. Further north, in the green waters of Canada's St Lawrence River, beluga whales are mysteriously dying - their white corpses found washed up on the stony shores. A world away on the Great Barrier Reef, swarms of monstrous sea stars are overrunning this marine paradise. At first glance, these stories seem unrelated. But, in fact, scientists suspect they may be part of a worldwide transformation brought on by toxins in the water. Have Earth's vibrant waterways become massive delivery systems for invisible poisons? And are some of these poisons reaching our faucets? As scientists verify that our problem with toxins is mounting, cutting-edge research using plants and bacteria draw on the building blocks of life itself as a solution to problems vexing the planet.

The series shows how everyday experiences connect with events around the globe. Compelling interviews, timely research, and engaging interactive features will unlock startling stories of invasive species, changing climate, vanishing predators, and toxins in our waters.

This four-part series will be premiering on PBS, Wednesday April 20 & 27, 2005 from 9-11 pm. For more information about broadcast times and to order this series in video/DVD, see: Strange Days on Planet Earth.