Monday, June 21, 2010

How the Earth was Made

By David Luhrssen
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Vesuvius is sleeping but not dead. The world’s most infamous volcano, which turned Pompeii into a city of fossils in AD 79, remains active and more dangerous than ever. According to an episode of the History Channel series “How the Earth was Made,” recent findings show that the center of what is now Naples, long assumed to be out of the volcano’s reach, was struck by lava from a forgotten eruption in 1780 BC. This means that Vesuvius has the potential to kill three million people in metropolitan Naples in a dark boiling cloud of ash and pumice that could roll down the mountain side and across land and water.

The Complete Season 2 of “How the Earth was Made” (out June 29 on DVD) offers a 101-level lesson in geology. Rapidly paced and with meaningful interview snippets of geologists in the field, the series is a largely intelligent, well-assembled survey of recent findings into our apparently unique world, a place where even continents move under the pressure of titanic forces. A few of the episodes strike an alarming note (“Vesuvius,” “Ring of Fire,” “Mt. St. Helens”) but most simply approach their topic (“The Grand Canyon” “Everest”) with a mixture of wonder and curiosity over how our earth was shaped over the course of eons.

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