Dead Men's Tales
Looping the Loop
ALAN ALDA We love to make myths of our past. One of America's most
enduring myths is the Wild West in the latter half of the
last century. It was a time and place that dime novels, and
later the movies, burned vividly into our imaginations. We
thought it would be fun to look at some Wild West myths through
our own particular lens. So, for the next hour, we'll be visiting
some very twenetieth-century scientists whose work and discoveries
carry us back to those 19th century times- of gold rushes
and Indian wars, cowboys and campfires, heroes and villians.
Speaking of villians... In the movies, every Western has to
have its villain - the guy with the cold unblinking stare
and lightning draw who terrorizes the local population. Well,
in this morning's newspaper here in Arizona, the role of the
heavy with the stare and the quick draw is played by the rattlesnake.
So we've come out here about 30 miles from Phoenix to find
out if the rattler's villainous reputation is really deserved.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Steve Beaupre and his colleagues from Arizona
State University know every inch of this half square mile
of desert - and most of the 1000 or more Western Diamondback
rattlesnakes that call it home.
ALAN ALDA Now how do I know I'm not walking through a bunch of
rattlesnakes down here?
STEVE BEAUPRE Well, let me check here
for you first. Ah, looks clear. Of course, I've been wrong
ALAN ALDA Hello.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) My job is to locate a radio transmitter that
Steve has surgically implanted into the belly of one of the
ALAN ALDA You know, I not only feel dopey doing this but I feel
stupid - trying to find a rattlesnake with all this stuff.
STEVE BEAUPRE Well, imagine how I feel. I do this every day.
There he is, right at the base of the bush. You see him?
ALAN ALDA That's incredible. You know, my eye caught that four
times 'cause he's got a little sunlight on him. And I thought
it was a stick, I thought it was like an old fallen branch
STEVE BEAUPRE Yeah, they're really camouflaged.
A little general rule we have, is that for every one snake
we see we walk by 10 or 15.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) My first lesson in rattlesnake biology -
they do every thing they can to avoid human contact. Which
unfortunately can't be said of other desert wildlife.
ALAN ALDA Aah!
STEVE BEAUPRE Better fast than slow.
ALAN ALDA Shouldn't I have a bullet and a glass of whisky here?
STEVE BEAUPRE Sorry, that's only if you're snake bit - but
that may be coming next!
ALAN ALDA (laughs)
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Springtime in Arizona is when rattlesnakes
wake up from a winter of snoozing in dens along rocky bluffs
like this, and begin looking for mates and for meals.
STEVE BEAUPRE So, right over here. Follow the edge of this rock
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Several hundred of the snakes here sport
brightly painted rattles.
STEVE BEAUPRE Oh yeah, it's orange-yellow-orange.
You're all right guy.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The colors identify the snake as one in Steve
ALAN ALDA Is this where you found this snake?
STEVE BEAUPRE Yeah,
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And today he's returning to their homes several
snakes he captured here a few days ago.
STEVE BEAUPRE Lucky
us, this animal is right on the top of the bucket. You can
see the paint marks, light blue, black, green.
ALAN ALDA They don't tend to hop out of the bucket, do they?
STEVE BEAUPRE Occasionally they do, but I think we're OK.
ALAN ALDA Occasionally they do, but I think we're OK.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Surprisingly to me, rattlesnakes are deaf.
Which left me wondering what that very noisy rattle is all
STEVE BEAUPRE That's a classic defensive indication.
The rattlesnake is a little bit agitated and he's shaking
it to make noise to let you know that he knows you're here
and he's not particularly pleased with your presence.
ALAN ALDA Is it interesting to you, it is to me, that a snake,
that's deaf, develops a defensive mechanism that relies on
STEVE BEAUPRE It tells you almost immediately that
it has very little to do with, for instance, with communication
among snakes, which for a long time was one of the hypothesis
that was used to try to explain the development of the rattle.
It has a lot to do with other animals and not the rattlesnake.
It's a defensive thing. Let me get her back up into her den
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Steve has never been bitten by one of his
snakes. Eight years of experience keeps him just out of striking
STEVE BEAUPRE C'mon honey.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) These snakes, now that Spring has come, start
moving from their dens to stake out ambush sites in bushes
and under trees, where they wait, still and silent for hours,
for a passing mouse or pack rat.
STEVE BEAUPRE Looks like
a good-sized male.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) By checking likely ambush spots, Steve can
track the movement of snakes he's captured and marked before.
STEVE BEAUPRE It's a recap. Outstanding.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Snakes spot their prey through sight and
smell - as well as sensory systems we humans don't possess.
STEVE BEAUPRE It's going to come over and investigate me.
No, I don't want you going that way. Hang tight.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) That flicking, forked tongue, for instance,
is sampling the air.
STEVE BEAUPRE What he's doing is picking
up fragments or particles from the air - some right off of
ALAN ALDA You had to mention me. It's like getting a smell?
STEVE BEAUPRE It's much more sensitive than a sense of smell even.
ALAN ALDA How else does he sense what's around him besides his
STEVE BEAUPRE They're pit vipers. And what that refers
to is heat sensing pits that they have in the front of their
face, and they're focused forward in much the same way that
your eyes do, which suggests probably that they have three-
dimensional heat vision as well as regular light vision. They're
in a very different sensory world than we are and it's very
difficult to say exactly what that's like. I can't even imagine
what that would be like myself.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) This snake is due for a check-up at Steve's
lab - where it immediately took offense at our microphone.
This did not inspire confidence.
ALAN ALDA Maybe you should tell me every time you lift the lid.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Worse was to come.
STEVE BEAUPRE Now, the
next trick is to get the tail of the snake out of this little
hole down here. Like to grab that tail for me?
ALAN ALDA Grab the tail. You have the head? Oh-oh, the tail is
shaking, the tail is shaking! Aah, I'm holding the tail of
a rattlesnake here! Aah, this thing is alive, you know? You
understand what I mean? I can feel its muscles, I can feel
the rattle going b-r-r-r like an alarm clock. Oh man, I don't
want to do that again. While you're at it, what can you tell
from the number of rattles here?
STEVE BEAUPRE Since the last
time we had it in the lab and we painted this bottom section
gold, probably at least a year ago - that section was actually
here at that point. And since we last captured this animal
it's shed its skin twice, and added these two segments, this
one and this one.
ALAN ALDA When they shed their skin, I can see how that makes the
outside of the rattle. But what makes the thing that shakes
around inside the rattle, what is that?
STEVE BEAUPRE Well,
actually, there's nothing in there. What the rattle is is
a series of bony rings of the same material as your finger
nails, and they lock together and rattle against each other.
And it's loose enough so that when the snake vibrates its
tail at a very high rate of speed, the segments rattle against
ALAN ALDA So really all it is is like clicking your fingernails?
STEVE BEAUPRE Yeah.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Finally, our rattler gets a new paint job...
ALAN ALDA Very tasteful color.
STEVE BEAUPRE Yeah, kind of regal.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And the rattler's lab visit is over.
ALAN ALDA Bye, Veronica.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Steve Beaupre does his research to answer
questions about how rattlesnakes fits in to the desert ecology.
What do they eat? How fast do they grow? When do they reproduce?
But science isn't his only motivation.
ALAN ALDA You handle them all the time. What are your feelings
during the day when you do that?
STEVE BEAUPRE I find them
to be beautiful and fascinating creatures. I guess that may
not be a popular opinion, but it's enough for me.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But if the rattlesnake doesn't quite deserve
its villainous reputation, there's another desert creature
- one that all but owns the desert by night - that more than
lives up to its evil image. This is the Mojave Desert of Southern
GARY POLIS I think its real close to a New Moon.
So, It'll be real dark and it's pretty warm, so I think we'll
probably find a lot of animals.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Biologist Gary Polis and his brother Dan
are tracking down one of the Wild West's most vicious predators.
Their ultraviolet lamps give their quarry - the scorpion -
an other-worldly glow.
GARY POLIS This is a great trait to
study these animals, because if they're out there, you can
see them. I've seen up to 700 animals a night. I'm using these
forceps instead of my fingers because I really don't want
to get stung. These guys hurt. They're not too bad, they're
like a honey bee or something like that. In fact most scorpions
are not deadly. There's only about 25 deadly species in the
world out of over 2000 species of scorpions.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Scorpions may not be deadly to humans. But
as they emerge from their daytime lairs, scorpions take over
the desert. This cricket, like almost anything else smaller
than the scorpion, quickly falls prey to the paralyzing toxin
in its stinger.
GARY POLIS Their rule of thumb on their diet
is that anything that's smaller than them, anything they can
subdue, is potential food, and they'll eat it if they can
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) And that includes their own. Young sand scorpions
are a major part of the older sand scorpions' diet. In this
typical battle, the larger sand scorpion on the right is able
to inject its venom while staying just out of reach of the
other's stinger. But in this fight, the bigger scorpion almost
makes a fatal error. As the victor begins its meal, the loser's
stinger stabs into its open mouth. But in vain. A final twist
of its own stinger secures the larger scorpion's victory -
and its supper. For desert scorpions, cannibalism is a way
GARY POLIS Cannibalism is really important in a lot
of environments, but here in the desert it's particularly
important. There's very little food available, so the cannibalism,
when you eat an individual of the same species not only represents
a big food item that you're eating, but also if you think
about it reduces competition for what little food is out here.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The sand scorpion may rule the desert night.
But even though bigger is usually better in scorption combat,
the sand scorpion is not the desert's largest.
Great, a couple of desert hairies.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) That distinction belongs to the hairy scorpion...
the biggest in North America.
GARY POLIS That's really a big
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's big, but it's rare. And Gary has discovered
GARY POLIS The reason it's so rare is that almost all
it's young die before they get to this size. And the reason
most of them are is because they are eaten by other scorpions,
particularly the sand scorpion.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) When young, the hairy scorpion is one of
the adult sand scorpion's favorite snacks. But the lucky few
hairies that escape the sand scorpions' constant attacks -
mostly by taking off for less desirable environments where
the food is scarcer - eventually grow to be big enough to
turn the tables on their former predators.
GARY POLIS This
one has gone through probably 3 or 4 years of vulnerability
to sand scorpions, and now it's bigger than any sand scorpion
and it can eat any scorpion here in the system. And it's king
of the heap right now.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Rattlesnakes may be scarier, but for sheer
nastiness the scorpion wins hands down - a point even Gary Polis
POLIS Their success and their nastiness actually may be correlated
with each other. It's a tough world out in nature, particularly
in the desert its eat or be eaten. So they've earned their
reputation and it's probably made them very successful.
DEAD MEN'S TALES
ALAN ALDA In the 1840's, there were only a few thousand settlers
west of the Mississippi. One of them, a carpenter named James
Marshall, got a job building a sawmill here on the American
River in California. On the morning of January 24, 1848, Marshall
found a few shiny bits of gold in the water channel of the
mill. The gold rush that was triggered by his discovery brought
people from all over the world - a quarter of a million of
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The promise of gold became a magnet pulling
people west. In 1874 a Civil War hero, George Armstrong Custer,
led a military expedition that found gold in the Black Hills
of Dakota. Soon tens of thousands of prospectors flooded in,
despite a treaty ceding the Black Hills to the Sioux Indians.
ALAN ALDA Two years later, Custer was back, this time as part of
a military expedition to move the Sioux out. What happened
next became legend. And more than a century later it sparked
a remarkable tale of scientific detective work.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) In eastern Montana, this is the site of the
Battle of the Little Bighorn - Custer's Last Stand. In just
half an hour, one June afternoon in 1876, Custer and some
210 of his 7th Cavalry were wiped out by an overwhelming force
of Sioux and Cheyenne. Custer's Last Stand has gripped the
public's imagination ever since- inspiring a half-dozen movies,
including this 1941 production starring Errol Flynn as Custer
and Anthony Quinn as Crazy Horse. But not all of Custer's
men died at the Little Bighorn. Half his force was here, three
miles from Last Stand Hill- where most of them survived a
day-long siege. A stone marks a makeshift hospital.
One of the men wounded on the line was Corporal George Lell.
He was brought here to the field hospital with an abdominal
wound which was mortal. And knowing he was going to die, as
one old veteran remembered years later, this very poignant
story, Lell is supposed to have said: "Lift me up, boys. I
want to see the boys one more time before I go." And then
he was laid back down, and died a short time later.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) George Lell was one of the few 7th Cavalry
troopers to have left behind a photograph. But like nearly
all the men killed in the battle, his body was never identified-
buried anonymously as one more Unknown Soldier.
There's a great deal known about George Custer and the officers
who died with him. Very little is known about the men who
died, the privates and the corporals and the sergeants. They
are the unknowns. We know from the register of enlistments
how old they were, how tall they were, but we know very little
else about them. Three years ago, Doug Scott excavated the
graves of five of the unknowns- men killed, along with George
Lell, during the hilltop siege. The five skeletons, one of
them thought to be Lell's, came here to Chico State University
in California, where anthropologist P. Willey seeks in dead
bones, clues to lives.
WILLEY Dead men do tell tales. And they can tell tales in
terms of how they lived and how they died. What their age
was, what their sex was, what their race was, that their stature
was. So they do tell tales. You just have to listen carefully.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) A common tale told by the bones was of backaches.
WILLEY One of the things that these vertebrae have, which
many of the vertebrae from the troopers... was there were
depressions indicating they had chronic back problems. Instead
of having nice, smooth surfaces, many of them had these pockets,
these cups, probably due in large part to riding long hours
over tough trails on hard saddles.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) One of the skeletons told vividly of the
way he died- shot in the back.
P. WILLEY This is a wound that came in from the person's back,
and right side, perforated through the hip bone just above
the socket for the thigh, and then came through the other
side of the bone, must have perforated the large intestine,
then exited on out the abdominal wall.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The hip wound allowed this first of the 5
soldiers to be identified as being fatally involved in one
of the the battle's most famous incidents. In the final moments
of Custer's Last Stand, the troops waiting 3 miles away sent
out a scouting party to see what was happening. Spotted by
the Indians, the men were chased back to their hilltop. One
of them fell, shot in the hip. A stone marks the spot. And
now, over a century later, Vincent Charley's remains can also
bear his name. Of the other skeletons, one was especially
intriguing- though his identity would prove much more elusive.
From how closely the plates of the skull have grown together,
Willey is able to estimate its age. And by measuring the long
bones of the legs, he can tell the skeleton's approximate
WILLEY It was a person who was in his mid-30's, 30 or 35 perhaps,
and who was short, about 5 ft. 6.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Unremarkable so far. But what was completely
unexpected was the excellent condition of the teeth, at a
time when dental care for most people meant a visit to the
blacksmith's. These teeth even had gold fillings. Willey sent
the skull to Chicago dentist Richard Glenner- who is also
a keen historian of his profession.
RICHARD GLENNER The first
thing that strikes me is that he has pretty good teeth, just
looking at it. And the thing that I see next of course are
these gold fillings. They just hit me right in the eye, they
looked so terrific.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As with all Dr. Glenner's new patients, the
next step was a set of dental x-rays.
RICHARD GLENNER It's
interesting, when they were developed and mounted, we looked
at them, and you couldn't tell whether it was a live person
or a dead person!
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The hollow chambers inside the teeth- which
narrow with age- confirmed that they came from someone in
their early 30's. But it was those gold fillings- bright spots
on the X-rays- which most fascinated Glenner- and were to
provide a vital clue to the skull's identity. We take the
paraphernalia of modern dentistry for granted. But back in
the mid-19th century, a dental office as sophisticated as
this was a rarity. Dental drills were almost unknown. And
only the very best dentists were using gold for fillings.
So the mystery skull can have come only from someone with
access to state-of-the-art dentistry. The hunt for the skull's
identity now shifted back to the battle site, where historian
Doug McChristian joined the search by checking through the
enlistment records of the 7th Cavalry. Among the candidates...
DOUG McCHRISTIAN George Lell. Here he is.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) ...Corporal George Lell. And at once, fortune
smiled. Lell enlisted in Cincinnati- in the 1870's, home to
only the second dental school in the world, and a pioneer
in using gold for dental fillings. But no sooner did the enlistment
record suggest Lell than it all but ruled him out. The skeleton
is 5 ft. 6. Lell's height is recorded as 5 ft. 9. So when
the skull returned to P. Willey at Chico State, he was forced
to look for other candidates- other candidates who may also
have had good dentists. Willey superimposed on a video image
of the skull the photograph of one of these candidates- an
army surgeon named DeWolfe.
RICK VERTOLI Looks like the ear
holes are lined up and the bridge of the nose is pretty close,
but the chin...the chin is way off and look at the top of
the head...not even close.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Candidate number two was Lieutenant Benjamin
Hodgson. West Point, where he had been a cadet, had the only
practicing dentist in the military.
WILLEY Our nose and eyes are in completely wrong places. Looks
like this isn't our guy either.
VIDEO TECH No, I don't think so, P.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) As a last resort, Willey checked out George
Lell- despite the 3 inch height discrepancy. And to his astonishment,
the face fit.
WILLEY Looks like our guy. George Lell.
WILLEY I was surprised. I felt we'd ruled out Lell pretty
effectively, but now it looks like he's back in the running.
STOTT I think most of the evidence shows that it is George
Lell. The single point of deviation is the height. And that
could be nothing more than a historical transcription error
by a clerk. We have mistakes that happen all the time, clerical
errors that occur today. Why not in the past?
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Today at the Little Bighorn Battlefield,
the five skeletons Doug Scott exhumed in 1992 have been re-buried.
Vincent Charley now has his own headstone. Because his identity
still can't quite be clinched, George Lell remains for the
moment an Unknown Soldier.
LOOPING THE LOOP
ALAN ALDA (Narration): Whisper
Alexander has been tending cattle on her family's Montana
ranch since she was a toddler. The skills she needs go back
centuries-and they've been refined over the generations into
the West's home-grown sport, rodeo. And when the chores are
done, it's the rodeo Whisper lives for.
I love it. It's just the adrenaline rush and the competition.
I love the competition.
ALAN ALDA (Narration): But Whisper-a
top-notch rider-has a weak point. And roping is a key rodeo
WHISPER ALEXANDER: I just need to throw it out there.
I'm kind of soft-looping it. Throwing it bad. I'll get it
ALAN ALDA (Narration): But try as she might, practice
is not making perfect. Which is why Whisper is a volunteer
subject in a brand new program at Montana State University.
The project is being run by sports physiologist -and former
rodeo rider-Mike Myers.
MIKE MYERS: What we want you to do
is not make any practice throws. We want this to be a real
rodeo runůso act like this is the last calf, the final performance,
last run. It's taking off like a rocket.
ALAN ALDA (Narration):
The bright lights and high speed cameras that will track the
reflective markers on Whisper's body and rope are now familiar
tools in established sports.
MIKE MYERS: Even though rodeo's
been around for a long time it's really considered a non-traditional
sport. And so a lot of this scientific expertise that we've
used in other sports such as baseball, track, and so on have
not been utilized in this field. What we're trying to do is
find out how these athletes are really operating. We're trying
to define basically what the sport is.
ALAN ALDA (Narration): Justin Davis is another volunteer
in the new program. He's brought along his favorite roping
dummy for the experiment, but the reflective tape is something
JUSTIN DAVIS: Nobody's ever touched my rope like this before
or put any tape on it or anything. But it shouldn't affect
my swing or anything like that.
ALAN ALDA (Narration): The swing produces a spinning
loop. The faster and tighter the spin, the better-because
when the rope is released the rope's centrifugal force is
what keeps it from collapsing in on itself as it flies to
the target. The Montana State research team is still finding
out if the methods used in other sports will work in this
BILL SKELLY: Initially it looks good. I'm needing
to see the different points standing out against the background
and they do look pretty good.
ALAN ALDA (Narration): A computer
is able to take the reflective points and connect the dots
to create a 3-D stick figure of the roper and the rope. Now
Justin's throw can be analyzed in detail. It shows near-perfect
form-each high speed loop creating a path almost identical
to the one before. Now it's Whisper's turn. And the computer
WHISPER ALEXANDER: Oh my gosh.
ALAN ALDA (Narration):
It reveals something neither she not her coach had suspected.
WHISPER ALEXANDER: Whoa
MIKE MYERS: We're getting a loss of
rope velocity by looking at how the rope dips in the front.
Actually the rope is dying before you draw it back.
(Narration): The disc traced by the loop is warping because
Whisper's not spinning it at a constant speed.
If you can increase the centrifugal force, or increase the
velocity of the rope during the spin, we'll typically see
a narrower loop pattern there. Notice how wide the pattern
ALAN ALDA (Narration): A comparison between Justin's and
Whisper's form reveals she is wasting energy spinning a big
loop. Where Justin's loop is tight and flat, Whisper's is
wide and uneven.
WHISPER ALEXANDER: I can't believe that I'm
making these mistakes. I thought that everything was pretty
consistent. But I'm ready to go out and make things right.
ALAN ALDA (Narration): Two months later, and the summer rodeo
circuit is in full swing. It's Whisper's first competition
since the lab visit.
ANNOUNCER: Ladies and Gentlemen, the chutes are shaking,
the ground's a trembling, it's time for the bull-riding here
at Lame Deer.
ALAN ALDA (Narration):
The women's roping event is next and Whisper's getting focused
on her swing. In women's roping, the rope breaks away once
the calf has been snared. But today most contestants are missing
altogether, and with only one throw allowed, there's no room
for error. For Whisper Alexander, two months of working on
her technique are about to be tested.
WHISPER ALEXANDER: My
technique felt really good. I got my loop up fast and got
my tip down. And went ahead and extended my arm. Felt really
ALAN ALDA (Narration): Seeing herself as a computerized stick
figure helped Whisper's roping enough to earn her second place
overall in the women's events-her best finish ever.
ANNOUNCER: Ride her home, Whisper.
ALL THAT GLITTERS
ALDA (NARRATION) A pan and a shovel. Add luck and persistence
and once upon a time in the West, you could strike it very,
ALDA Thanks. I haven't eaten in a week!
ALDA (NARRATION) And it can still happen. Chuck Fipke has
just become one of the most successful prospectors in history.
ALDA Get it all muddy?
FIPKE Yup, that's right. Now, shake it down again...That's
ALDA (NARRATION) Like all prospectors, he needed luck and
persistence. But his real secret, as we'll see in this story,
was a high-tech version of a gold pan.
ALDA Oh, I see...I'm making the gold or whatever go to the
bottom. Do you see anything good yet?
FIPKE Ah, not yet. But it's probably down there.
ALDA Once you get down to the...
ALDA (NARRATION) Today, only traces remain of the gold of
the Old West. But Chuck Fipke was prospecting along a new
western frontier, in the far north of Canada. And it wasn't
gold he had a hunch lay hidden in this empty landscape, but
something far more valuable - diamonds. The diamond business
worldwide exceeds $30 billion a year. Virtually all diamonds
come from giant mines in just three regions of the world-
Southern Africa, Russia and Australia. Almost no one thought
commercial quantities of diamonds could be found in North
America - except Chuck Fipke. Fifteen years ago, already a
well-known mineral prospector with a good track record, Chuck
persuaded a few trusted friends and associates to join him
in the far north of Canada's Northwest Territories- braving
the mosquitoes- on what most of his professional colleagues
thought was a wild goosechase.
FIPKE I remember a time when I was at a conference, I was
behind this poster, and I heard two people talking about me.
And one of them basically said I was nuts, I was crazy. So
I went behind the poster to see who it was, and it turns out
it was a guy that I had been working with.
ALDA Why did he think you were crazy?
FIPKE Well, at the time, people just thought there were no
diamonds in Canada.
ALDA (NARRATION) But Chuck saw here in Northern Canada a feature
also found in the known diamond-producing regions- a patch
of the Earth's crust thick enough to create the pressure needed
to squeeze carbon into diamond. Those other diamond-rich regions
depend on chimneys of molten rock, called kimberlite pipes,
to lift the diamonds to the surface. Only a few of these pipes
contain diamonds- and even in these, diamonds are rare.
FIPKE Even in the best kimberlite pipes, diamonds only occur
in one part per billion by volume, and so geologists that
have worked five or ten years in the open pits never ever
see an actual diamond in the host-rock kimberlite.
ALDA (NARRATION) So finding diamonds means that you must first
locate kimberlite pipes- itself an extraordinarily difficult
task. With no roads here and- at the time- not enough money
for a helicopter, Chuck relied on float planes. But because
of what he was looking for, that turned out to be an advantage.
Chuck didn't expect to see the kimberlite pipes themselves.
In the millions of years since they erupted at the surface,
their craters have been filled in by water or sediment. Instead
his plan was to search along the shores of the region's innumerable
lakes for grains of minerals that form alongside diamonds-
but are thousands of times more abundant.
FIPKE These are diamond indicator minerals, some of which
actually grow with diamonds. These purple pyropes, here, they
actually grow with diamonds.
ALDA (NARRATION) Finding these minerals would mean diamonds
must almost certainly be nearby. Only for 3 months a year
is this land not frozen solid- so Chuck had to go to work
just when the mosquitoes do. Chuck took more than a thousand
samples like this in the 10 years he searched. Each sample,
once the large gravel was screened out, contained 20 to 30
million grains of sand. He was looking for the one or two
grains that would mean he was on the trail of kimberlite.
ALDA It's really looking for a needle in a haystack, isn't
FIPKE Yeah, it is, but if you keep at it, if you go through
every straw in the haystack, you'll eventually find the needle.
ALDA (NARRATION) And now we come to Chuck's secret weapon-
his high-tech version of a gold pan- a lab he designed and
built 20 years ago to find mineral needles in a haystack of
sand. In a gold pan, the heavy gold sinks to the bottom as
the lighter sand is washed away. But unlike gold, the minerals
Chuck is looking for are only slightly heavier than most of
the sand, and in a gold pan would also get washed away. So
Chuck has built a series of separation steps- some of them
so secret we couldn't film them- to tease out the one grain
in 10 million he's searching for. This is one of the critical
steps. It's like a gold pan that uses a liquid several times
denser than water, floating off the lighter minerals, allowing
any indicator minerals to sink. Next come machines that take
out any grains that can be given an electrostatic charge,
or that are magnetic. In the end each 20 million grain sample
is reduced to a few thousand...
FIPKE Oh. There's one right there.
ALDA (NARRATION) ...and these must be checked one by one.
Chuck's crazy hunch was paying off. He began finding the minerals
that can only come from kimberlite pipes. But that was the
easy part. Now he had to find the pipes themselves. And months
of searching, even near spots where the indicator minerals
were the most plentiful, turned up nothing. Chuck seemed to
have come to a dead-end- until he had another of his hunches.
He'd been searching most intensively where his samples were
best, near the base of the Canadian Rockies. But what if the
indicator minerals hadn't come from pipes nearby, but had
been transported and dumped here thousands of years ago by
FIPKE I kind of draw an analogy to a big bulldozer. The glaciers
decapitate the top, say, of the diamond-bearing pipes and
move them for distances of four or five hundred miles and
leave little bits along the way. And so once you're on the
trail, and you know which way the glacier has moved, well,
then you can work your way back to the source.
ALDA (NARRATION) Over the next few summers, Chuck criss-crossed
an area 800 miles long by 200 miles wide, collecting another
FIPKE It's right there, it's right on the very end. Chuck's
wife Marlene then spent much of her winters analyzing the
samples and working on a map to display the results.
FIPKE OK, red?
FIPKE Yeah. Each sample was color coded according to the type
and quantity of its indicator minerals.
FIPKE OK, and three diamond inclusion chromites.
ALDA (NARRATION) As the map filled, its colored spots peaked
400 miles east of Chuck's original search site, then faded
out. It was at a spot just before where the fading started
that Chuck now placed a million dollar wager. With rumors
of his discoveries leaking out, Chuck teamed with investors
willing to pay for a helicopter to stake out mineral claims
to approximately a half-million acres of the Northwest Territories.
The investment group also promised the Canadian government
to spend at least a million dollars developing the claim-
still with not a single kimberlite pipe actually located.
But as test drilling began, core sample after core sample
revealed kimberlite pipes.
FIPKE We're finding them right now as we're talking, so we'll
probably end up having quite a rich diamond bearing area up
here in Canada.
ALDA (NARRATION) "Quite a rich" could be a Canadian understatement.
Already the investment partnership of BHP and Diamet has found
44 diamond-bearing kimberlite pipes. And the first five test
mines here all produced diamonds. This handful alone could
be worth $100,000.
FIPKE Well, the quality of these is excellent. They're very,
very white, of the best color and flawless crystals.
ALDA When you were standing behind that billboard and heard
your colleague say he thought you were kind of nuts for looking
for these diamonds, you didn't really know that you'd be sitting
on top of real diamond mines one day, did you?
FIPKE No, but I wouldn't give up. But I must admit, I thought
about it and at times, I thought maybe perhaps I was a little
ALDA (Laughs) But you kept at it.
ALDA (NARRATION) Unlike in the days of the Wild West, environmental
concerns must first be satisfied before full-scale mining
can begin. If and when it does, these frontier lands could
soon be producing diamonds worth well over a billion dollars
ALAN ALDA Here's an image right out of the Wild West: the lonely
campfire the only sign of human life in miles of empty prairie
- or here in Arizona, empty desert. The West was never really
empty of course. But its native peoples lived lightly on the
land, and the land itself - especially here in the desert
- supported plants and animals that were adapted to getting
by on not very much. But today Tucson, just to the south,
and Phoenix a hundred miles north of here, are two of the
fastest growing cities in the country. What supports the millions
of new people is the equivalent of tens of millions of campfires
like this - oil and gas being burned to power the cars and
air conditioners - to pump the water and bring in the food.
One campfire is relatively harmless. But across the planet,
billions of campfires' worth of energy is being burned every
day - so much that the atmosphere itself is being changed.
There's been a lot of guessing about what the changing atmosphere
will do to the earth, to it's ability to support life and
to the biosphere we live in. But facts are hard to come by.
How do you experiment with the planet? Well, out here in the
middle of the Arizona desert is one possible answer. You build
and operate a planet in miniature- another biosphere. Biosphere
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) September 1991. With much hoopla and hype,
four women and four men embark on what is billed as one of
the great scientific adventures of the century. With the sort
of press coverage once given space missions, the eight so-called
Biospherians are shut away inside what is claimed to be a
sealed steel-and-glass structure that covers over three acres.
Their mission: to be totally self-sufficient in air, water
and food for two years. As tourists came to window-gaze at
the Biospherians, problems began almost immediately. Carbon
dioxide built up in the air. The Biospherians' farm failed
to produce as much food as expected, leaving its inhabitants
- like Linda Leigh - hungry and weak. Linda Leigh was in charge
of the Biosphere's miniature rain forest - which was originally
intended to remain an unexploited wilderness.
ALAN ALDA So, as you started to get hungrier and hungrier, did
you find yourself foraging a little more?
LINDA LEIGH Yes.
So we were foraging a little bit more and a little bit more,
and realizing when we were really hungry that we were in trouble
with food. And we started planting more bananas in the rainforest,
and more papayas. In fact, the reason there are so many papayas
right around this little pond is because we wanted more food
for ourselves to eat. Our priorities changed. They changed
over from the wilderness into producing food for the humans
and I think it's really an interesting lesson. It really parallels
what is happening on the earth.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) But by the time the Biospherians emerged
from their 2 year stay, Biosphere 2 had gone from a grand
experiment to the scandal-plagued butt of late-night TV jokes.
A few months later, its benefactor and sole funder, a Texas
billionaire, pulled the plug. Today, under new management,
Biosphere 2 attracts fewer tourists. But for the first time
since it was built, scientists are looking at it as a useful
model of our own planet. Helping convince them is one of its
builders, Bernd Zabel.
ALAN ALDA You built it and you were on the crew.
BERND ZABEL Yeah.
So I had the knowledge, the very intricate knowledge by building
it, but also I was in training for four years here to be part
of the crew of how to operate it. So, yeah, I know it very
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Which is fortunate because it's Bernd's job
to keep the Biosphere running. No one lives in here now, but
managing a miniature earth, complete with a desert, swamp,
rain forest and million gallon ocean, is a 24-hour-a-day job.
And it's easy to make mistakes.
ALAN ALDA So you artificially regulate the rainfall. You can make
it a desert rainfall over there?
BERND ZABEL Yeah, in all
these biomes we are able to control the rain, except I show
you what happens in the desert where we, where the rain run
a little bit out of control, which had an incredible impact.
This really doesn't look like a desert. I mean, it's far too
green and lush for a desert.
ALAN ALDA How did it get that way?
BERND ZABEL It rained too much
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) One of the reasons the desert got too much
rain was that water unexpectedly condensed on the roof at
night, and then dripped down. And the desert wasn't alone
in not quite working out as planned. Biosphere 2's ocean supports
a coral reef, but barely. Keeping the ocean's million gallons
as clean as real sea water has so far proved impossible.
BERND ZABEL The ocean is hanging in there, but it's really not flourishing.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Of course, it's the problems of making Biosphere
2 work that make it so fascinating as a model for the earth.
And some of the most intriguing insights it provides are from
the things its designers left out.
ALAN ALDA You know what else I noticed that you don't seem to have-
out in this big open space, anyway- is wind.
BERND ZABEL That's
ALAN ALDA That's a big element that's missing, isn't it?
BERND ZABEL Which causes a problem for these trees. When you look
here, these acacia trees, they have very funny forms. And
what we found out later on, that if a tree grows, to harden
the tree it needs wind action. Every time when a tree moves,
it builds actually outside what is called a stress wood.
ALAN ALDA So that strengthens the tree?
BERND ZABEL So it strengthens
the tree. In our case here, the tree is growing without any
wind, without any disturbance, and it actually becomes so
top heavy that they break off.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Biosphere 2's builders left out the wind,
but they included something I wished they hadn't.
ALAN ALDA These ants are covered! Every time I look down, I've
got another ant on me. And look at this, they're all over
BERND ZABEL Yeah, they're everywhere. Everywhere
in the Biosphere.
ALAN ALDA Did you bring them in?
BERND ZABEL Yeah. They were not
intentionally introduced, this species of ant, but they came
in with some plants or we obviously...It's a rainforest ant.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Like the rain forest ant, the rain forest
itself is flourishing.
ALAN ALDA What's it like when it rains in here?
LINDA LEIGH Well,
I think I'll just call in some rain and we'll find out.
ALAN ALDA Oh, good.
LINDA LEIGH Could we have rain in the northwest
quadrant of the rainforest? Over.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Knowing how much the producers like to put
me in situations like this, I 'd come prepared.
Are you ready for it, Linda?
LINDA We're ready. Thank you, Chris.
ALAN ALDA We're ready.
LINDA (laughs) I never had an umbrella in
ALAN ALDA What kind of a rain would you call this?
This is about the normal rain for the wet season in the rainforest
here. It's nice, isn't it?
ALAN ALDA It's very nice. The nicest part is watching the camera
crew get drenched.
LINDA LEIGH Yeah. (laughs)
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It's the Biosphere's rain forest that is
perhaps its most valuable scientific resource. In just 4 years
it has grown thick and lush, providing a textbook example
of how vital the rain forests are to the earth and its atmosphere.
Littering the forest's floor are its own decaying leaves.
LINDA LEIGH When this stuff falls to the ground, it starts
to decompose. It breaks down into what we see right here,
which is leaves that might have some of their matter gone.
And they look really pretty like that. What this leaf becomes,
when it's like this is it has become carbon dioxide in the
atmosphere. Carbon dioxide is released in the atmosphere and
oxygen is consumed. So this leaf, the carbon of this leaf
has now gone into the atmosphere. We are breathing it, and
so are the plants. The plants are using that carbon dioxide
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Right now, the world's burning of fossil
fuels is pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
How plants will respond is a critical question for the earth's
future- and it's one that the Biosphere's new director of
science believes his earth-in-miniature can help answer.
MARINO Biosphere 2 is a unique facility especially suited
for these kinds of experiments because we have so many kinds
of trees and plants under one atmosphere. Not only can we
measure this leaf and many leaves of the same plant, but we
also have many types of plants in the Biosphere. Of course,
now we're in the rainforest. Rainforest is obviously important
because a large part of the CO2 that's taken up by plants
occurs in the world's tropical rainforests.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Four years after being shut in here, the
air in Biosphere 2 now has much more carbon dioxide than the
air outside. Which is why Bernd is heading for the Biosphere's
depths. And one of its most astonishing sights. Designed by
Bernd, this is one of a giant pair of lungs.
ALAN ALDA This thing moves up and becomes a dome when it fills?
BERND ZABEL Yes, this thing is an aluminum saucer. It is airtight
welded, it weighs 26 tons in itself and it is connected with
a membrane, with a flexible rubber membrane to the outer ring,
onto the outer tank. So this whole thing can move up and down.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) Opening this door for the first time in 4
years, Bernd allows the lung to breathe out the stale air
and breathe in fresh air from the outside.
BERND ZABEL OK.
Open the outer lung door.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) It takes just 20 minutes for Biosphere 2
to take one great gasp.
BERND ZABEL Door is closed.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The plan is to set Biosphere 2's carbon dioxide
levels at those the earth is likely to reach in the near future,
then find out how food production, for instance, will likely
change. The research is just beginning. But already Biosphere
2 has provided a new perspective on the world outside.
ALAN ALDA You walk past a plant in the outside world, and you're
taking a breath and the plant in its own way is taking a breath.
Do you really think about your relationship to that plant?
LINDA LEIGH I think about it every time, just like with this
plant. This plant is producing oxygen that we are breathing.
It's using the carbon dioxide that we're exhaling. We're dependent
on each other. And that became so obvious inside this small
world. The small world's very tangible. we know where the
walls are, we know where the limits are, we've our glass exoskeleton
on the outside. If you pollute your atmosphere in here, you
know about it right away. Outside on the planet earth, we
can pollute our atmosphere and it will end up in our neighbor's
backyard. We might not think about it. In here, you think
about it all the time.
ALAN ALDA (NARRATION) The thinking inspired by Biosphere 2 is the
opposite in every way to the thinking that inspired the Wild
West a hundred years ago. Then the world seemed to go on forever.
Today we're only too well aware of its edges. From the former
Wild West, this is Alan Alda. See you next time.