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There’s no doubt that there’s a lot to explore about planet Earth, and with television, there are plenty of shows about Earth that do just that. Whether we’re exploring geography, geology, or animal life, these shows about Earth are a look into some of the amazing things about our home.
Blue Planet - Seas of Life
This 2001 British documentary was all about water, the life-sustaining force that covers Earth. It was groundbreaking in covering some aspects of marine life that had never previously been captured on film. Though the majority of our planet is covered with ocean, humankind hasn’t explored much of it. In fact, we’ve explored more of space than water, and we still don’t know a whole lot about what goes on down there—which is pretty terrifying. Oceans are complex, responding to the solar system (lunar tides and the position of the sun) and teeming with life, only some of which has made an appearance on the surface. What’s more, it’s incredibly deep, with the deepest known point being the Mariana Trench, a 7 mile drop into the depths. Don’t think that it’s all the same, either; the ocean is full of diverse environments, including coral reefs, frozen wastelands, and even deserts—places so far away from land, they’re as remote as the Sahara. The documentary highlights some of the most fascinating and terrifying aspects of oceanography.
This 2009 BBC documentary examined the struggle for survival among different life forms on Earth, and how different plant and animal species have found ways to overcome the challenges of their environments. The documentary captured some animal hunting methods that researchers only recently discovered. It also focused on the bizarre and the amazing: birds who use tools, animals with elaborately-coordinated hunting choreography, and snakes that can alter their own hormones. It’s a good look at the ways different species have learned to collaborate, adapt, and evolve to better withstand their environment. With its in-depth look at the sometimes bizarre survival methods of the world, Life is a unique and fascinating show about Earth.
The BBC seems to have a knack for producing great documentaries, because in 2011, they did it again with Frozen Planet, a look at the lives of animals and people in the Arctic and Antarctic and the ways that climate change is affecting their homes. Life in these frozen parts of the world is a constant battle with the elements, from terrifyingly low winter temperatures and severe winds to the never-setting sun of the summer months. For humans, it’s a totally unique life that’s sometimes reliant on animals like reindeer. Indigenous peoples usually spend their time hunting the rare wildlife, while researchers study the amazing phenomena of the region such as cosmic rays, unusual animal life, and the aurora borealis. The documentary also offers a unique perspective into the changing habitat for animals such as polar bears and penguins as the region undergoes climate change.
This documentary, produced by the BBC in conjunction with Discovery and BBC Worldwide, shows the ways in which humans have adapted to life in some of the most unforgiving places on Earth. For most people, “home” is in a city of a suburb, but for some, it means a houseboat in the middle of the ocean, a caravan en route in one of the harshest deserts on the planet, or climbing around the trees in a tropical jungle without outside human contact. It might also be living in one of the coldest places on the planet, battling lions for food, combating extreme flooding, or dealing with eye problems after years of harsh UV rays on a mountaintop. These stories make the thought of city traffic significantly less daunting, and earns this documentary a place on the list of great shows about Earth.
This 2006 BBC documentary took years to film and landed its maker in some dangerous situations as they attempted to capture aspects of life that were rarely seen by humans. The documentary took a look at the harsh, sometimes uninhabitable regions of Earth—some of which are enough to send a shiver down the spine, like Erta Ale, the Ethiopian volcano that’s been erupting for more than a hundred years, or the Cave of Swallows in Mexico, which is big enough to fit the Empire State Building inside it and is sometimes accessed via BASE jumping. There are also the great deserts of the world, with terrifying dust storms and vacillating temperatures. If you’re an optimist, the documentary is a reminder of the strange and wonderful things on the planet—if you’re a glass-half-empty type of person, it might get you thinking about all the ways Earth could kill you.
Yet another 2006 documentary from the (frankly amazing) BBC, Galapagos tells the story of the Galapagos Islands, the equatorial string of land that proved instrumental in Darwin’s study of the theory of evolution. The islands are a prime example of evolutionary progress, and play an important role both historically and scientifically. The documentary focuses on Darwin’s work there as well as the volcanic creation of the island and the ongoing changes observed in animal life there, including birds, tortoises, and reptiles. In case you were wondering, only five of the 19 islands are inhabited by humans, which makes them perfect for studying wildlife away from the interference of humankind. It also makes them a perfect subject for a documentary, making this three-episode series yet another great show about Earth.
How the Earth Was Made
This 2009 History Channel series focused on, well, how the Earth was made. Episodes studied how particular geological phenomena occurred on Earth, such as the San Andreas Fault, the Mariana Trench, or the Grand Canyon, exploring their creation and the role they’ve played in the working of the planet as a whole. The show also addressed the “big events” of Earth: tsunamis, asteroids, volcanoes, and ice ages, and how they affected life on this little blue-and-green orb. It definitely contained some surprises (did you know there’s a connection between New York and Africa?) and kept up a quick pace with lots of varying locations, from huge deserts to towering glaciers to deep lakes. It also speculated about the future of the planet and what may be coming with shifting land masses and stirring volcanoes.
Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey
This documentary, hosted by the great Neil deGrasse Tyson, follows the series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, hosted by Carl Sagan in 1980. The show discusses an impressive range of topics, mostly about scientific processes that contribute to or alter the course of life on planet Earth. Part science class, part history lesson, it also addresses important scientific discoveries made throughout the ages that have led to a better understanding of how the planet operates. Some subjects include DNA and evolution, light theory, atoms, dating the age of the earth, the effect of stars on the planet, historical geography and the changing landscape of Earth, and the possibility of life on other planets. The simple message is: keep exploring, we haven’t finished discovering yet.
Even with interstellar travel, there’s still plenty to be discovered about our own planet Earth, spinning steadily beneath our feet. These ground-breaking shows about Earth are just scratching the surface.