Permafrost in the Arctic that took hundreds of thousands of years to form is thawing at an alarming rate, threatening the release of massive and dangerous amounts of greenhouse gasses. One of the ideas scientists are pondering to combat this environmental disaster takes Scott Pelley to the top of the world to meet Sergey Zimov, who wants to return the region to the way it appeared in the Ice Age: a landscape of grassland, not forests, full of animals, including woolly mammoths. Yes, mammoths. Pelley reports from the Siberian Arctic on the next edition of 60 MINUTES, Sunday, March 31 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT) on the CBS Television Network.
Zimov, a geophysicist, has lived in the Siberian Arctic for 40 years. He remembers when he could never penetrate the soil with a shovel. Now he can dig down six feet before his shovel bangs on the permafrost. “In the past, all our soil, which was melted in summer, freeze everywhere totally…Now, in all winter it did not freeze…the permafrost is melt,” he tells Pelley.
Zimov warned for years that there is more greenhouse gas in permafrost than in all of the world’s remaining oil, natural gas and coal and now the scientific community has begun to listen. While there’s no consensus about how much of it could be released and how quickly that will happen, Zimov is concerned about the effects of the melting permafrost in the Arctic because carbon levels there extend extremely deep, so there’s so much of it to be potentially released.
Zimov’s son and main collaborator, Nikita, takes Pelley into a cave about 30 feet deep, where they dug up the carbon-rich remains of plants and microbes. “It’s a ticking carbon bomb, as it called,” says Nikita.
The Arctic began melting because temperatures have risen worldwide in recent years from greenhouse gases and that’s made the permafrost vulnerable. The Zimovs believe they can help reverse the trend by returning parts of Siberia to the Ice Age and have dubbed their experiment Pleistocene Park. Sergey Zimov tells Pelley what the area looked like then. “Not any trees. This looks like grasslands and savanna. And you will see around 1,000 of mammoths, around maybe 5,000 of bison. Around maybe 10,000 of horses,” he says.
His son, Nikita has been felling trees over a 54-square-mile area and introducing yaks, a long-haired ox-like mammal that can weigh upwards of 1,000 pounds. “You need to start with something…prove people that the concept work. And to prove that concept work…you don’t need millions of animals,” says Nikita.
But what they really want are mammoths, and they have enlisted the help of one of the world’s leading geneticists in their audacious plan.
Harvard Professor George Church has been experimenting with reviving species through their DNA at his Boston laboratory. He visited with the Zimovs this past summer and obtained DNA from mammoth bones in Siberia. But it could take some time to deliver even one woolly to the Zimovs, he tells Pelley. What separates science fact from science fiction, says Church, is that unlike the dinosaur DNA in the novel Jurassic Park, mammoth DNA is much newer and therefore potentially usable. “I would say that probably in five years we’ll know whether we can get this to work for mice, and maybe pigs and elephants. And then if we can get embryos to grow in the laboratory all the way to term, then it’s probably a decade.”
SURVIVORS’ NETWORK – Anderson Cooper profiles a couple whose daughter was gunned down in one of the many mass shootings in the U.S. They have since devoted their lives to helping the survivors and families affected by mass shootings. Nichole Marks is the producer.
PLEISTOCENE PARK – Global warming is thawing the Arctic permafrost and threating to release massive, dangerous amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. Meet the scientists trying to recreate the Ice Age in part of Siberia to combat a climate catastrophe and see the ambitious project to revive the extinct woolly mammoth using DNA. Scott Pelley reports from Siberia. Henry Schuster is the producer.
THE ROCK – A Connecticut prison experiment inspired by Germany’s corrections system has not only reduced violent incidents in the maximum security facility, but has also produced a college basketball star who made the Dean’s List. Bill Whitaker reports. Marc Lieberman and Ali Rawaf are the producers.
Shyquinn Dix is getting a second chance at life thanks to a groundbreaking experiment at the Cheshire Correctional Institution, a maximum-security prison near Hartford, Conn., where he served time. Last summer, Dix was halfway through a four-year sentence for felony check fraud. Today, he is a dean’s list student at the University of Maine at Presque Isle and the star player on the basketball team. Dix says he would still be in prison had it not been for the Cheshire program, which emphasizes personal and emotional growth. It is modeled on prisons in Germany, where the main focus is rehabilitation, not retribution, and human dignity is paramount. On the next edition of 60 MINUTES, Sunday, March 31 (7:00-8:00 PM, ET/PT), Bill Whitaker goes behind Cheshire’s walls to see how German-style incarceration is being tried in America.
The Connecticut program is called T.R.U.E., short for Truthful, Respectful, Understanding and Elevating. When Dix first entered T.R.U.E, he was skeptical. “I thought it was some B.S. because of just the stuff they were saying,” Dix tells Whitaker. “Like, ‘Oh, the correctional officers and staff here care about you. You get a second chance at life if you take it serious.’” But a corrections officer in the program did care about Dix and helped him earn an early release.
T.R.U.E. focuses on 18- to 25-year-old inmates who live in their own cellblock separate from the general population. Whitaker toured the unit with Warden Scott Erfe, who pointed out elements that make T.R.U.E unique. “You wouldn’t have correctional officers playing board games with the inmates. That’s just not done in general population,” Erfe says. “Everybody here, you can tell, is just totally relaxed.” T.R.U.E. prisoners receive intensive counseling and learn personal responsibility from an incentive system administered by staff and older prisoners brought in to help.
Warden Erfe wasn’t sure the German approach would work in Cheshire. Now, two years in, he sees T.R.U.E. as a model for prison rehabilitation programs nationwide. But the union that represents Cheshire’s correctional officers remains dubious, telling 60 MINUTES the program is too lenient and exposes officers to undue risk. Warden Erfe is encouraged by the results he has seen so far: “Numbers don’t lie. Our incident rate is a lot lower in T.R.U.E than it is in general population.”