Great Yellowstone Thaw

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View at a vivid grand canyon of the Yellowstone and Yellowstone River.
Credit: Filip Fuxa/Shutterstock


 

Great Yellowstone Thaw airs on WSKG-TV on Wednesday June 28, 2017 at 9pm


Greater Yellowstone is a unique place. Nestling high up in the Rocky Mountains in North West America, this ecosystem is one of the world’s greatest wildernesses. But it’s a place of extremes, and the wildlife must deal with one of the toughest springs on Earth. To understand how, this series is following a number of iconic wildlife families – including wolves, grizzlies, Great Gray Owls and beavers. Using the latest filming technology, the team of scientists and cameramen track the animals and analyse what’s going on. Host Kirk Johnson, the Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History, heads the team and also gets to grips with the science behind what makes Yellowstone tick.

The story starts in winter when temperatures plunge as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Then as the temperature increases during spring and summer there’s a dramatic event at the core of this seasonal change – the thaw – when a torrent of meltwater cascades down the mountains and into rivers and lakes. How will the animals be affected?

In the second segment, our cameras continue to follow the dramas facing the wildlife families in Yellowstone, and Spring brings many new challenges. Whilst the brutal cold temperatures and deep snow of winter have gone, the weather continues to be erratic and there’s the impending danger of the Great Thaw. When temperatures get high enough to melt the snowpack, millions of tonnes of water will cascade down the mountain, bulldozing everything in its path.

Wildlife cameraman Jeff Hogan discovers a nest of Great Gray Owls perched on top of a broken tree. There are three chicks, but one is a runt, significantly smaller than its siblings and at risk of starvation.  And when the worst storms for years hit the Beartooth Mountains, Jeff wonders whether it can hang on. Even if it can, will all three chicks successfully fledge the nest before they overheat?

Down on the Snake River the family of beavers is busy making the most of the Spring vegetation. Their winter larder is exhausted and the fresh supply of aspen leaves is a welcome feast.  Infra red cameras give Jeff and host Kirk Johnson a secret view of life in the lodge, as the beavers squabble over food and do a spot of spring cleaning. Kirk dons a dry suit to head underwater to admire the engineering skills of these rodents. Massive boulders and branches are there to strengthen their dams, but will they be enough to withstand the thaw?

When the torrent of water begins to hit, Kirk joins a hydrologist to help measure the water flow in the rivers and work out how this year’s weather has affected the thaw. All over Yellowstone, as the Spring green up progresses ever higher, the wildlife is booming in numbers as thousands of young are born. But the deluge of water challenges some of the youngest animals, particularly those that have to make a river crossing. A challenge that only the strongest will succeed with.

The wolves had a bad winter, but with the elk and bison strong after a milder winter, life isn’t getting any easier. Biologist Doug Smith analyzes a hunt where the wolves take on the mighty bison. Will it be a win for predator or prey?

And finally in Spring, all the remaining grizzlies emerge from hibernation. Kirk joins up with bear expert Casey Anderson to see how protective those mother grizzlies will be when it comes to taking care of their cubs. He learns that the biggest dangers come not from other predators, but from their own kind.

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