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H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US

Airs Wednesdays, April 22 - May 6, 2020 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + PBS Video App

Aral Sea ship. This was one of the largest lakes but dried out when the two r...

Credit: Courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation

Above: Aral Sea ship. This was one of the largest lakes but dried out when the two rivers that fed it were diverted for irrigation, eventually leading to drought. Kazakhstan

As we usher in the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, a new documentary dives deep into one of the most critical issues affecting our planet: our supply of fresh water. At once indispensable and invisible in daily life, water is often taken for granted.

Yet, competition for, and the cost of, water is rising to epic levels, as filmmakers show us in H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US, a special three-part broadcast and digital series premiering on April 22, 2020.

H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US - Preview

H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US is a 3-hour series from WGBH Boston premiering on PBS on April 22. The film dramatically reveals how water underpins every aspect of our existence. Segments from across the planet, intimate documentary and natural history cinematography combine to uncover dramatic discoveries and compelling characters and deliver important stories about this mysterious molecule.

A decade from now, the World Economic Forum projects we’ll need 40 percent more water than we do today.

“Water is our most fundamental resource, yet we don’t really understand it,” observes narrator Kelly McEvers, the award-winning NPR journalist and host of the popular podcast, "Embedded." “Over the course of three episodes, viewers learn to think completely differently about our water supply.”

Water is Life

Geologist Stephen Mojzsis visits the Krafla Lava Fields, in Northern Iceland, and Isua, Greenland, and explains why life cannot exist without water, but he also shows us that the interplay between life and the atmosphere keeps earth at the perfect temperature – just right for liquid water. So, life has perpetuated the liquid water on the surface of our planet for geologic time.

In the emptiness of outer space, Earth is alive because of water. Humanity’s relationship with this simple molecule is everything. H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US dramatically reveals how water underpins every aspect of our existence.

Segments from across the planet, intimate documentary and natural history cinematography combine to uncover dramatic discoveries and compelling characters and deliver important stories about this mysterious molecule.

The film documents the impact of a shrinking water supply in locations spanning South Africa, Gaza, the U.S. and other parts of the world.

In California, extreme droughts have contributed to more frequent and devastating wildfires and the once popular resort community of Salton Sea is a ghost town as a result of its water supply running dry.

Global Consequences of Drought

Geographer Troy Sternberg followed an unprecedented series of droughts that rippled across the globe from 2006 to 2011. From Australia to China to Russia and the Middle East, these droughts devastated farmers. And they directly impacted the price of wheat, which began to skyrocket. Follow the water to see the role drought can play in war, and in politics around the world.

“Water is the elixir of life but, as we see in the series, we don’t value water in the way we need to in order to ensure we’ll have enough of it in the future,” comments WGBH’s VP, National Programming and Co-Executive Producer John Bredar. “A young man in Gaza, traversing the city streets to fill a plastic jug, his family’s water supply for the day, explains that no one in Gaza has a 24-hour supply of water. That’s how real the water crisis is.”

Cracks in the Earth

For tens of thousands of years, underground reservoirs across the world have been collecting water. In recent decades, humans have been pumping this groundwater far faster than it can possibly be replenished. Now, our demands on underground freshwater are outstripping supplies. The ground is sinking in places all over the world, and huge cracks in the earth’s surface are cropping up.

It turns out that the notion of running out of water is not as far-fetched as we may think. In fact, as we learn in H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US, water didn’t exist on Earth in the beginning.

Moreover, only one percent of the world’s water today is fresh water and 92% of the world’s water consumption is utilized for growing crops.

Water has become big business.

Virtual Water

How much water does it take to get a tomato to your plate? Arjen Hoekstra calculates the water footprint of the products that you consume at home. The effect of the water footprint can be out of place out of mind, because the water comes from somewhere else; but, as this clip reveals, ignoring the impact we have on our water supplies can result in environmental disasters.

“What really struck me when working on the film was this idea that we can run out of water and that that is already happening in some places,” said WGBH Co-Executive Producer Laurie Donnelly. “Water shortages may feel like a far-away problem but, as we see in new, profound ways in the documentary, water connects all of us – every species across every country, continent and ocean.”

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is the engagement and outreach partner for H2O: THE MOLECULE THAT MADE US. TNC will extend the reach and impact of the digital and broadcast initiative, and bring awareness to the science, perspectives, and solutions of TNC’s work.

Resurrection Plants

Resurrection plants aren’t dead; they just look dead. But add water, and these plants completely transform. There are 135 species in the world that can do this, and plant biologist Jill Farrant believes these plants could be the key to producing food security in the face of drought.

“It's been enlightening to chase these water stories around the world -- we now truly appreciate the extent of water's global interconnections with nature, and with the future of our civilization,” says Passion Picture series producer David Allen. “Nothing could be more important than to tell these essential stories. The future of our fresh water feels like something that can be solved.”

The Foamy Rio Tiete

Ecologist Greg Asner chases droughts, measuring the effects using 3-D maps. All over the Western Amazon, he's seeing huge loss in tree canopy. The mega-droughts in Brazil are damaging the rivers that fly above the forest and causing problems elsewhere. Because of the drought, there was not enough water to flush pollutants, like this toxic foam, out of the Rio Tiete.

EPISODE GUIDE:

Episode 1: “Pulse” airs Wednesday, April 22 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, April 23 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, April 26 at 10 p.m. on KPBS 2 - The episode opens on the distant rock and ice of Greenland, where Geologist Stephen Mojzsis reveals a new theory on how water first arrived on Planet Earth.

We see a dragonfly’s incredible journey from India to Africa – the world’s longest insect migration.

Rivers in the Sky

Watch the story of the “wandering glider” dragonfly. These tiny two-centimeters long insects, begin their journey in India. They fly thousands of feet in the air and ride the rain clouds all the way to Africa. Not only is this the greatest migration of any insect -- even longer than the Monarch butterfly -- it has profound consequences for both continents.

We meet the Munoz family, ‘bloom chasers’, who use cutting edge time-lapse photo rigs to show the rare spectacle of deserts around the world exploding from barren wastelands into rich carpets of flowers. But the pulse of water is under threat.

Episode 1: Pulse - Preview

"Pulse" opens on the rock and ice of Greenland, where geologist Stephen Mojzsis shares a new theory on how water first arrived on Planet Earth. See the world’s longest insect migration, and meet the Munoz family, who use cutting edge time-lapse rigs to show the rare spectacle of deserts around the world exploding from barren wastelands into rich carpets of flowers. But the pulse is under threat.

Episode 2: “Civilizations” airs Wednesday, April 29 at 9 p.m. on KPBS TV + Thursday, April 30 at 11 a.m. and Sunday, May 3 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - The episode turns our ‘water lens’ on human history. In the jungle of the Congo in Africa, we see a hint of one provocative theory of evolution – Did we learn to walk in water?

Starting in Ancient Egypt, it charts the critical role water plays in history, and around the world we see the birth of civilizations on the banks of the great rivers: Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow.

The question is raised, can we guarantee water supplies that are needed for future existence?

Episode 2: Civilizations - Preview

"Civilizations" turns our ‘water lens’ on human history. Starting in Ancient Egypt, it charts the critical role water plays in history, and around the world we see the birth of civilizations on the banks of the great rivers: Nile, Tigris and Euphrates, Indus and Yellow. We end by asking if we can guarantee water supplies of the future?

Episode 3: “Crisis” airs Wednesday, May 6 at 9 p.m. and Sunday, May 10 at 2 p.m. on KPBS TV + May 10 at 9 p.m. on KPBS 2 - The episode examines how the planet’s changing water cycle is forcing us to change our relationship with water.

An increasingly, globalized agricultural industry has become expert at turning precious water reserves into profit, “mining” water faster than it can be replaced.

In its conclusion, the series visits locations such as New York City, a surprising model for sustainable water infrastructure, and hope emerges that the water crisis is solvable.

Episode 3: Crisis - Preview

"Crisis" examines how the planet’s changing water cycle is forcing us to change our relationship with water. An increasingly, globalized agricultural industry is turning precious water reserves into profit, “mining” water faster than it can be replaced. As Chairman Emeritus of Nestle, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe says, “.... the water issue is more urgent than the climate issue."

WATCH ON YOUR SCHEDULE:

The full series will be available to stream at pbs.org/molecule and the PBS Video App on April 22.

With the PBS Video App, you can stream your favorite and local station shows. Download it for free on your favorite device. The app allows you to catch up on recent episodes and discover award-winning shows.

The DVD is available to purchase at ShopPBS.org.

WHAT'S YOUR WATER FOOTPRINT?

The water you use is more than what you see flowing from the tap — much more. So how much water goes into items you consume on a daily basis, and where does it come from? Can changing what you eat save water? What about the clothes you wear? By understanding our individual water footprint, we can appreciate the role water plays in everyone’s lives. What's yours? Calculate your water footprint

JOIN THE CONVERSATION:

PBS is on Facebook and Instagram. Follow @PBS on Twitter. #MoleculePBS

Photo credit: Courtesy of WGBH Educational Foundation

Flooded forest

CREDITS:

Produced by WGBH Boston. Executive Producers: John Bredar and Laurie Donnelly. Series Producer: David Allen. Directors: Nicolas Brown and Alex Tate. Producer: Catherine Watling. Outreach and Engagement Partner: The Nature Conservancy. Funding is provided through the support of PBS viewers. Major funding is provided by: Anne Ray Foundation, Draper, The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations and Lynn Bay Dayton and Bruce C. Dayton.

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