Oxygen – we all need it, we can't live without it. It's integral to life on this planet. And it's probable that, as you watch this film, you will be breathing in an oxygen atom that was also breathed by Genghis Khan – or by the first ever apes to stand upright on the plains of Africa. The oxygen that we breathe is made from two oxygen atoms joined together – O2. They were first joined more than 3 billion years ago by the earliest blue-green algae to evolve. The oxygen molecule first came from bacteria and was present in the fires that destroyed the dinosaurs and the chemical reactions in all human cells, and as ozone they protect the earth from radiation. Since then, both together and apart, they've had the most extraordinary adventures. Each of the two atoms in an oxygen molecule is virtually indestructible – so they have been first-hand players in some of the most dramatic events in the whole of Earth's history. It's often said that we are breathing the same oxygen that the cavemen did. The life of a single molecule of oxygen is traced on it's astonishing journey spanning millions of years, from its creation, into photosynthesis, through the age of the dinosaurs, early man, and on into today.
Monterey Bay on California's coast is one of the most diverse marine ecosystems in the world, its giant kelp forest bursting with life, from microscopic plankton to visiting ocean giants. The secret key to success in such a busy microworld is balance. Steve Backshall guides us through the unique geography of the bay and introduces some of its key characters in a quest to find the one species that keeps life in the kelp forest in check.
In the vast South Atlantic, huge pods of dolphins, massive penguin colonies and the largest gathering of marine mammals on earth pack chains of extraordinary islands, created by powerful volcanic forces far below them. Nutrient-rich upwellings create profusions of life in some areas, whilst extreme isolation and abyssal depths host a world of bizarre creatures in others.
The squirrel family is one of the most widespread on earth, so what is the secret to their success? There are squirrels that can glide through the air, outwit rattlesnakes and survive the coldest temperatures of any mammal. We uncover the extraordinary abilities of these cheeky characters, putting their problem solving to the test on a specially designed assault course. We team up with some of the world's top squirrel scientists who are making groundbreaking discoveries - from the fox squirrel who can remember the location of 9,000 nuts to the grey squirrel whose tree-top leaps are the basis of new designs in robotics. We also see the world through the eyes of an orphan red squirrel called Billy, as he grows up and develops all the skills he will need to be released back to the wild. It is time to meet the animal family we should never underestimate - the super squirrels.
The first programme of Darwin's Dangerous Idea explores the impact of Darwin’s ideas on religion and morality. Andrew Marr discovers that an important part of the Beagle’s mission was to return three natives to their homeland, Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost tip of Argentina. Years before he reached the Galapagos, they raised questions in his mind about the fragility of civilisation and what it really means to be human. Marr explores how Darwin developed his ideas when he returned to Britain and finally unleashed his theory of evolution by natural selection on the world. Darwin’s ideas are taken up by many of the major thinkers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Sigmund Freud. We discover that his ideas helped motivate the Kaiser’s army in the First World War and would also help convince the United States government to drop its isolationist policy and enter the conflict. In the 20th century, we discover a growing backlash against Darwin’s ideas among fundamentalists from the world’s major religions. At the same time science has been showing that Darwin’s theory of natural selection holds sway over our behaviour - including our morality - as much as it does over the evolution of our bodies. There is significant scientific evidence that suggests that Darwin has returned humanity to nature, in all its wonder, its glory and its danger.
In the wilds of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, a mother moose tends to her newborn calf. Spring is in full swing, but this far north, winter is never far away and, with hungry bears and wolves for neighbours, many challenges lie ahead. Local cameraman Hugo Kitching knows this only too well, but he is determined to follow the mother and calf through the four seasons. What unfolds is a very intimate story, and when Hugo finds a second moose calf born late in the year, things take an unexpected and dramatic turn.