NOVA | Making North America
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Watch Wednesdays at 9pm June 29 - July 13, 2016
and Sundays at 11am July 3 - July 17, 2016​ on WMHT-TV 

Also airing on WMHT WORLD

Mighty, elemental forces molded North America. Fiery eruptions, titanic floods, the grinding of great ice sheets, and massive impacts from space all shaped our land. Now, for the first time, NOVA—a production of WGBH Boston—presents a bold and sweeping three-billion-year biography of our continent and how it came to be in an epic new three-hour series. Hosted by renowned paleontologist Kirk Johnson, this spectacular road trip through our nation’s tumultuous deep past sets out to answer three fundamental questions: How was the continent built? How did life evolve here? And how has its spectacular landscape shaped human lives and destinies?

North America is a vast and vibrant continent full of towering summits, rugged coastlines, abundant wildlife, and stunning natural wonders. But the land, its creatures and its people have not always existed as they are today. In this new NOVA series, an extraordinary tale of violent creation and destruction unfolds in a forgotten world that existed long before our own—one that was crossed by long-lost mountain ranges, deserts the size of Africa, and vast inland seas spanning the length of the continent. Beloved landmarks like the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and the Rockies are explored from the inside out as viewers witness the clash of continents and nature’s forces colliding. Enhanced by dazzling, hyper-realistic CGI animations, immersive geological field missions, and the latest scientific research, the MAKING NORTH AMERICA series reveals the incredible story of a majestic continent.

“Our young continent experienced some pretty intense growing pains during its formation,” said Paula S. Apsell, senior executive producer of NOVA. “Kirk Johnson is the perfect guide to reveal the secrets in the land beneath our feet and to show viewers the intimate connection between geology and biology that allowed life to flourish here.”


MAKING NORTH AMERICA: ORIGINS | Wednesday, June 29 at 9pm, Encore Sunday, July 3, 2016 at 11am

In the series’ first hour, Origins, host Kirk Johnson, Sant Director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History, crisscrosses the continent searching for evidence of the powerful forces that gave birth to North America. Viewers join Johnson as he rappels down the sheer wall of the Grand Canyon to reach billion year-old rock layers, flies over active volcanoes in Hawaii to witness new land being formed, and discovers a fossil in Alaska proving that palm trees once flourished there. Near Lake Superior in Minnesota, Kirk meets geophysicist Emily Wolin, who deploys a seismometer to reveal traces of gigantic lava flows that once threatened to split the budding continent in half. Near Denver, Kirk spots an ingenious clue that tells him today’s mighty Rocky Mountains were not the region’s first great mountain chain but that a no less imposing range, the Ancestral Rockies, rose and fell long before. And, unlikely as it seems, even the rocks of downtown New York City hold surprises: Kirk finds out that ancient mountains, not skyscrapers, once towered over Manhattan. Finally, Kirk’s journey ends on the shores of California, where geologist Lisa White reveals how the mighty grinding forces of the San Andreas fault are still reshaping the Pacific coastline.


MAKING NORTH AMERICA: LIFE | Wednesday, July 6 at 9pm, Encore Sunday, July 10, 2016 at 11am

The second hour of the series investigates the mystery of how life emerged on our primeval continent. Why was North America home to so many iconic dinosaurs like T-Rex? How did a huge inland sea filled with giant marine creatures end up covering Kansas? In Life, NOVA tells the surprising intertwined story of life and the landscape in North America. Viewers dive with host Kirk Johnson and marine scientist Pamela Reed in the Bahamas to encounter rare living fossils that are some of the planet’s oldest organisms. In the Badlands of North Dakota and the desert wilderness of southern Utah, Kirk sees striking new dinosaur discoveries that help answer the riddle of why so many varieties flourished there, as well as traces of the catastrophic asteroid impact that wiped them out. With the dinosaurs gone, mammals could now flourish and the continent’s ancient subtropical forests became home to some of the earliest primates. Kirk unravels the mystery of why they ultimately disappeared, leaving North America mostly primate-free until the arrival of humans millions of years later.


MAKING NORTH AMERICA: HUMAN | Wednesday, July 13 at 9pm, Encore Sunday, July 17, 2016 at 11am

In Human, the third and final hour of MAKING NORTH AMERICA, NOVA explores the intimate connections between the landscape, the colonizing of the continent, and the emergence of our industrial world. From prehistoric stone toolmakers to the gold rush and today’s oil and gas boom, North America’s hidden riches have always held the key to our prosperity. As a result, human activity has transformed the continent on a scale that rivals the geological forces that gave birth to it billions of years before. Yet, even as we remake the world to suit ourselves, the potential risk of catastrophe caused by geology remains. Scientists warn of sleeping giants like the Cascadia fault and the earthquake and tsunami it could unleash on the Pacific Northwest. Not to mention the sleeping supervolcano under Yellowstone that could one day obliterate half the continent as it has done several times in the past.


In the final hour, Kirk Johnson struggles up a treacherous Alaska glacier to experience the formidable obstacle that ice sheets presented to the earliest people trying to enter the continent—the ancestors of today’s Native Americans. Kirk’s other adventures include groping his way through an abandoned gold mine in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and discovering ancient tar pits, slowly transforming into oil, right in the heart of L.A. Kirk investigates the bounty of

the soils that drew early farmers westward from the industrials centers of the east, until the discovery of gold turned that expansion into a stampede. And finally, NOVA touches on how overexploiting our natural resources could have serious consequences for North America’s future.

Our continent has seen some amazing transformations over millions of years, and we are far from reaching the end of this restless land’s unique story. As NOVA’s wild ride back in time and across North America reveals, nature’s forces are relentlessly at work and nothing is ever permanent.

To coincide with the MAKING NORTH AMERICA premiere, NOVA is developing a number of unique components—

including special interactive digital elements and educational companion events at the local, national and global level.


A special MAKING NORTH AMERICA interactive map has been created for the NOVA website (—

putting users in the driver’s seat on a journey to discover how our amazing continent came to be through a game-like web experience of exploration and expeditions that reveal the powerful geological forces in action.