Watch Going to Polar Extremes

Written by: The Exchange

Join Kirk Johnson on a dramatic and surprising adventure as he guides us through our distant past, traversing the globe from pole to pole to uncover the extraordinary story of our planet’s changing climate. This geological journey will take us down a trail of strange fossils found in all the wrong places—beech trees in Antarctica and alligators in the Arctic—as we discover the bizarre history of the poles, from miles-high ice sheets to warm polar forests teeming with life. What caused such dramatic changes at the ends of the Earth? What actually controls the dial on Earth’s thermostat? Our polar extremes amply demonstrate that our planet’s past holds the key to our future. And ultimately leads to the most important question of all: What will we do with this information to flip the switch on climate change?


Kirk Johnson is the Sant Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History where he oversees the world’s largest natural history collection. Before coming to the Smithsonian in 2012, Kirk was a paleontologist at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science where he led expeditions in 18 states and 11 countries. His research focuses on fossil plants and the extinction of the dinosaurs. In 2011, he led an ice age excavation near Snowmass Village in Colorado that recovered parts of more than 50 mastodon skeletons. Over the course of his career as a geologist and paleobotanist, he has excavated and studied fossil plants from latitude 62°S to 82°N.

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.