This collection, containing 13 programs on 4 discs, looks at the geological history of specific places on the Earth. The series is grounded in plate tectonics and geological activity, with plate tectonics and glaciology being foremost.

In some ways it is a good introduction to how geological forces act, but as a geophysicist I do have some caveats.

First, while the geological dangers are very real, the program has a tendency to emphasize the “this could happen tomorrow” aspect. There is very little emphasis on what we can do to minimize the effects of possible geological disasters. (All right, there’s not much we can do if Yellowstone blows again, but things like evacuation routes and plans for tsunamis and engineering for earthquakes are hardly touched on.)

Second, the programs do not distinguish among kinds of faults and plate boundaries. While mid-ocean ridges are recognized as divergent boundaries, the difference between transform boundaries such as the San Andreas Fault and convergent boundaries is never clearly described. Nor is the difference between ocean-continent convergence (which produces ocean trenches, volcanoes and massive earthquakes) and continent-continent collisions (responsible for the mountain belt extending from the Himalayas to the Alps.) The latter are capable of producing far greater earthquakes, as the potential area of breakage is far larger, and are also responsible for the “ring of fire” around the Pacific.

Third, the story of each region is told as if the scientists just had to find the missing pieces, and as if they knew what they were looking for. In many cases, the findings were a total surprise and the interpretation we accept today is quite different from what the researchers who found the information at first tried to make of it. I know — I was watching as plate tectonics gradually became the accepted framework of geology.

Overall the series is worth watching if you have any interest at all in how the world came to be as it is today. But take it with a grain of salt – the writers of the narration didn’t always know what they were talking about.

Individual programs are:
The San Adreas Fault
The Deepest Place on Earth (Challenger Deep)
Krakatoa
Loch Ness
New York
Driest Place on Earth (Atacama Desert)
Great Lakes
Yellowstone
Tsunami
Asteroids
Iceland
Hawaii
The Alps

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