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Life On Fire

The town of Gilazpi was evacuated when Mayon Volcano erupted in December 2009. The lava solidified before reaching the town but volcanologists proved they had made an accurate diagnosis.
Courtesy of Saint Thomas Productions
The town of Gilazpi was evacuated when Mayon Volcano erupted in December 2009. The lava solidified before reaching the town but volcanologists proved they had made an accurate diagnosis.

Airs Wednesdays, January 8 - February 12, 2014 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

Volcanoes are among the most spectacular and powerful forces on our planet. They create new land, change landscapes and destroy civilizations, but more than two billion years ago, they also breathed life into our world.

From the ocean abyss to snow-covered summits, this ambitious six-part series paints a detailed picture of the struggles and amazing intimacy required to survive around volcanoes. Spectacular scenery provides the backdrop for the extraordinary animals and plants that have learned to juggle with fire. Fragile and engaging, these creatures teach us lessons in survival in a world as fascinating as it is dangerous. Narrated by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons.

"Icelandic Volcanoes" (Episode One) repeats Wednesday, January 8, 2014 at 11 p.m. - The 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland provoked economic chaos by paralyzing a major air traffic network for days. This eruption, however, was mild. Much more powerful volcanoes in Iceland are ready to wake up. Through spectacular aerial footage of this country, which is an accumulation of lava and ash, a maze of craters and faults, the episode tries to discern which volcano could wake up next and what the consequences of a major eruption are likely to be. Europe has come to realize that a colossal power sleeps beneath Iceland, while Icelanders for centuries have learned to live amongst their volcanoes.


"Volcano Doctors" (Episode Two) repeats Wednesday, January 15, 2014 at 11 p.m. - Whether the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Colombia, Chile, Italy or Iceland, each of these countries is home to active volcanoes that are a threat to the populations settled at their feet. Every day, lava, ash, gas, bombs and avalanches are likely to slide down the gaping mouths of the rock giants. To avoid disasters, volcanologists are asked to anticipate and warn. They are asked to be prophets and to know how to analyze the volcanoes’ slightest tremors. Around the world, these volcano doctors use their tools and knowledge to try to protect those who live beneath the Earth’s fire.

"The Surprise Salmon" (Episode Three) repeats Wednesday, January 22, 2014 at 11 p.m. - In Alaska, the fresh water that feeds the rivers is snowmelt from North America’s highest mountains and most active volcanoes. Time and again, they erupt and poison the rivers. Scientists have only just begun to piece together what might have happened nearly 2,000 years ago, when one race of salmon faced the death of their natal river and were forced back to the open ocean on an exceptional adventure. Navigating between the sulphurous waters, bears, sharks and eagles, the fish escaped the Earth’s wrath to give birth to descendants that continue their pioneering journey to the heart of an active volcano.

"Phoenix Temple" (Episode Four) repeats Wednesday, January 29, 2014 at 11 p.m. - Around the Masaya volcano in Nicaragua, life has struggled for thousands of years to re-emerge from the ashes. Underground, vampire and other bat species have colonized the miles of tunnels created by hot flowing magma. In the crater, parakeets and vultures have made nests on cliffs exposed to toxic gases. On the flanks of this still active mountain, the vegetation has been burnt away by lava flows leaving barren stretches that are recolonized over hundreds of years. At the foot of the volcano, fields, pastures and towns have grown over the oldest lava flows. In this harsh environment, nature struggles to conquer ash and lava before the next eruption erases its efforts … and the phoenix must rise again.

"Ash Runners" (Episode Five) repeats Wednesday, February 5, 2014 at 11 p.m. - On the volcanic island of New-Britain off the coast of Papua New Guinea, a handful of animals have learned to live with the Earth’s moods. When ash from a volcanic eruption invades their habitat, the choice is simple: leave or stay and adapt. In truth, it’s not that easy, since volcanoes and their actions are unpredictable and each creature responds in its own way. This episode presents the reactions of strange birds, mischievous hermit crabs and gregarious flying foxes as well as the majestic Priamus butterflies.


"Pioneers Of The Deep" (Episode Six) repeats Wednesday, February 12, 2014 at 11 p.m. - In the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean, tectonic movements construct or swallow islands. In the Tongan archipelago, two little-known animals have learned to cope with these ephemeral lands risen from the ocean depths: the sooty tern, a seabird that never dares wet its wings for fear of drowning, and the Alvin shrimp, a blind crustacean that manages to find its way around the abyss. When an underwater volcano becomes an island, the fates of these two extraordinary paradoxes are linked.