At some point all of us have had that 3 am conversation with our besties on our place in the grander scheme of things. What was then an academic discussion, can now be seen in real time thanks to BBC’s Earth From Above Anthology, which includes Earth From Space and Equator From the Air.
Earth From Space features satellite footage tracking natural and man-made phenomena. To watch winter turn to spring or rain green the desert is awe-inspiring, and tells you losing out on that parking spot or missing a show is not the end of the world.
Narrated by 12 Years a Slave actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, Earth from Space follows different stories from across the world. A family of elephants in Kenya is looking for food. The one-week old calf stumbling after her mother is cute as a button. Weighing 100 kilograms she requires 12 litres of milk a day, which her mother cannot provide as she and the herd are struggling through a drought. They have left the relative safety of the Samburu National Reserve looking for food and are target of poachers. There has been 25 per cent less rain because of climate change. However, the satellite images show the build up of clouds and rain is just six days away. The family survive and the calf’s first experience of rain as she slips and slides through the mud, brings an elepantine lump to the throat.
The satellites monitor the seals in Namibia, the wildebeest herd size in the Serengeti and grey whales in Baja, Mexico from 600 kilometres above. In Antarctica, where the emperor penguins hang out with their one month old chicks, the satellite images show strange, brown patches. On closer inspection, it is found to be penguin poop — 10,000 birds generate a lot of it. As the temperatures are -20 degrees, penguins eat snow instead of water. They go looking for clean snow to eat and by tracking the brown poop spots via satellite, 26 new colonies were discovered.
In 2017, satellites captured a crack in the ice 450 metres wide and 200 kilometres long, which finally broke to form the biggest iceberg. In Mozambique, a rain forest was discovered on top of cliffs again thanks to the eye in the sky.
Lake Baikal in Siberia is the largest body of fresh water on the planet. Satellites discovered scary, dark rings in the ice four kilometres across, which is a disaster for the Baikal seal pups who can drown as the ice breaks in the rings, that are caused by hot air currents.
From from space we can see how water defines us. We built our cities around water from Venice to London and Hongkong. Congregations at Mecca during Haj or at Vatican during Easter service, the Burning Man at Nevada and Glastonbury look different from space.
In the arid lands of Botswana, the satellite images show a shimmering fan — the Okavango Delta, created by hippopotamus. The three-ton bulldozers keep the waterways clear; they have helped create waterways stretching over 10,000 km.
While the San Andreas Fault and Grand Canyon were created over millennia, through satellites we see the creation of a new island formed by the eruption of an underwater volcano.
In the Himalaya (thank fully not Himalayas) Yunan’s snub nosed monkeys are the highest living primates. While most animals go to the plains during winter to feed, these monkeys go to higher ground. They are rewarded with a secret kingdom where rhododendrons bloom in the thousands.
Satellite pictures of coral reefs reveal “grazing halos,” which monitor the health of the ocean. In the Congo, there is a strange shape created by the forest elephants. Called Dzanga Bai, meaning village of elephants, generations of elephants come here to dig for minerals. In a corner of Brazil, sand has eaten the vegetation turning it into a scorching desert. However, everything changes with the monsoon and it is nothing short of miraculous to see lagoons and lush green vegetation popping up where it was just blistering sand.
From space, everything looks other-worldly. From the star-like shapes in the Sahara to the strange loops formed by the Amazon, the farming circles in the US with their little pockets of wilderness at the edges where the kestrel hunts and the baby quails dive away from irrigation pipes.
Seen from ground-level or up in the air, it is truly a wonderful world and the only one we have, so we should take good care of it.
Earth from Space will be aired from October 21 to 24 at 9 pm on Sony BBC Earth