BOSTON, MA; December 7, 2022—The PBS science series NOVA today announced a new one-hour film, BEFORE THE ICE (w.t.), produced by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and Handful of Films for GBH, that will present an unprecedented, detailed portrait of the high Arctic two million years ago–made possible by a revolutionary breakthrough in ancient DNA science. The groundbreaking discovery is the subject of a paper published as the cover article in the December 7 issue of Nature, reporting the recovery and sequencing of more than 100 plant and animal genera contained in sediment from Northern Greenland dating to at least 2 million years ago. This breakthrough is around one million years older than any DNA sample previously recovered. The documentary is currently in production and slated to premiere in early 2024 on PBS.

For nearly three years, the filmmakers behind BEFORE THE ICE (w.t.) have had unique access to the scientific team behind this discovery, led by Danish paleogeneticist Eske Willerslev. The film will bring the team’s findings to life, using genetic information to create a detailed picture of a lush Arctic forest ecosystem that existed on the northern coast of Greenland before glaciers advanced at the onset of the Ice Age.

Climate scientists point to the geological epoch immediately before the Ice Age as the closest analog to the new climate reality developing on Earth today. This epoch—called the Pliocene—is the last time Earth’s atmosphere held as much carbon as ours does today (>400ppm). Until now, we have known less about this world before the Ice Age than about the age of dinosaurs, which ended 66 million years ago. BEFORE THE ICE (w.t.) will transport viewers back in time to when the high Arctic was covered by forests inhabited by strange and surprising creatures, uncovering this lost era, species by species, through the eyes of the research team.

Eske Willerslev, now a professor at both the University of Cambridge and the University of Copenhagen, is one of the foremost architects of the ancient DNA revolution.

“Our breakthrough with two-million-year-old DNA from Greenland shows that for the first time, we can reconstruct past living communities and the genomes of individual species going back millions of years,” said Professor Willerslev. “This opens the door to a program of human-engineered climate adaptation. We may be able to retrieve genetic adaptations to climate changes far in the past and use them, through the technology of gene editing, to save ecosystems and species from extinction in the future."

“This film will give viewers an inside look at a monumental 15-year effort to push the boundaries of ancient DNA science,” said NOVA Co-Executive Producer Chris Schmidt. “We’re thrilled to bring audiences on an exciting journey through the scientific process leading up to these remarkable findings.”

“Most people are familiar with the idea of decoding ancient DNA from Jurassic Park, but in reality, scientists have struggled to find and accurately sequence DNA from the deep past,” said NOVA Co-Executive Producer Julia Cort. “This latest discovery provides a major leap back in time, and this documentary will provide viewers with an exclusive window on how it was achieved.”

“One of our privileges as a science-focused studio is to learn about discoveries in progress,” said Head of HHMI Tangled Bank Studios Sean B. Carroll. “We look forward to sharing the story of this extraordinary discovery with audiences around the world.”

BEFORE THE ICE (w.t.) is slated to premiere in early 2024 on PBS and will also be available for streaming and via thePBS Video app.

BEFORE THE ICE (w.t.) is a NOVA Production by HHMI Tangled Bank Studios and Handful of Films for GBH. Produced and Directed by Niobe Thompson. Executive Producers for HHMI Tangled Bank Studios are John Rubin and Sean B. Carroll. Executive Producer for Handful of Films is Niobe Thompson. Executive Producers for NOVA are Julia Cort and Chris Schmidt. NOVA is a production of GBH.

Funding for NOVA is provided by Brilliant Worldwide, Inc. Consumer Cellular, the NOVA Science Trust, the Corporate for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers.

For footage and images relating to the discovery, please contact Jennifer Welsh at NOVA/GBH: 978.985.9835;

About NOVA
NOVA is the most popular primetime science series on American television, demystifying the scientific and technological concepts that shape and define our lives, our planet, and our universe. The PBS series is also one of the most widely distributed science programs around the world, and is a multimedia, multiplatform brand reaching more than 55 million Americans every year on TV and online. NOVA’s important and inspiring stories of human ingenuity, exploration, and the quest for knowledge are regularly recognized with the industry’s most prestigious awards. As part of its mission to make the scientific enterprise accessible to all, NOVA is committed to diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all its work, from the production process to the range of stories we tell and the voices we amplify. In addition, science educators across the country rely on NOVA for resources used in the classroom as well as in museums, libraries, and after-school programs. NOVA is a production of GBH; more information can be found at, or by following NOVA onFacebook,Twitter, orInstagram.

About PBS
PBS, with more than 330 member stations, offers all Americans the opportunity to explore new ideas and new worlds through television and digital content. Each month, PBS reaches over 120 million people through television and 26 million people online, inviting them to experience the worlds of science, history, nature and public affairs; to hear diverse viewpoints; and to take front row seats to world-class drama and performances. PBS’ broad array of programs has been consistently honored by the industry’s most coveted award competitions. Teachers of children from pre-K through 12th grade turn to PBS for digital content and services that help bring classroom lessons to life. Decades of research confirms that PBS’ premier children’s media service, PBS KIDS, helps children build critical literacy, math and social-emotional skills, enabling them to find success in school and life. Delivered through member stations, PBS KIDS offers high-quality educational content on TV–including a 24/7 channel, online at, via an array of mobile apps and in communities across America. More information about PBS is available, one of the leading dot-org websites on the internet, or by followingPBS on Twitter, Facebook or through ourapps for mobile and connected devices. Specific program information and updates for press are available or by followingPBS Communications on Twitter.

About GBH
GBH is the leading multiplatform creator for public media in America. As the largest producer of content for PBS and partner to NPR and PRX, GBH delivers compelling experiences, stories and information to audiences wherever they are. GBH produces digital and broadcast programming that engages, illuminates and inspires, through drama and science, history, arts, culture and journalism. It is the creator of such signature programs as MASTERPIECE, ANTIQUES ROADSHOW, FRONTLINE, NOVA, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE, Arthur and Molly of Denali, as well as WORLD Channel and a catalog of streaming series, podcasts and on-demand video. With studios and a newsroom headquartered in Boston, GBH reaches across New England with GBH 89.7, Boston’s Local NPR®; CRB Classical 99.5; and CAI, the Cape and Islands NPR® station. Dedicated to making media accessible to and inclusive of our diverse culture, GBH is a pioneer in delivering media to those who are deaf, hard of hearing, blind and visually impaired. GBH creates curriculum-based digital content for educators nationwide with PBS LearningMedia and has been recognized with hundreds of the nation’s premier broadcast, digital and journalism awards. Find more information

About HHMI Tangled Bank Studios
HHMI Tangled Bank Studios is a mission-driven production company that seeks to shine a light on some of the most significant scientific challenges and breakthroughs of our time. Recent films include Emmy Award-winners The Serengeti Rules and The Farthest – Voyager In Space; Emmy-nominated Nature’s Fear Factor and My Garden of A Thousand Bees; Peabody Award winner Inventing Tomorrow; and All That Breathes, the only film to win best documentary at both the Sundance and Cannes film festivals. To extend the reach and impact of each film, the studio undertakes educational and public outreach efforts in partnership with mission-focused organizations. For more information, please visit WWW.TANGLEDBANKSTUDIOS.ORG.

About Handful of Films
The documentaries of anthropologist filmmaker Niobe Thompson reach back to our human origins, explore the mysteries of evolution, and tackle the environmental dilemmas of the Anthropocene. Niobe’s work has been recognized three times with Canada’s highest honour for “Best Science and Nature Documentary.” His films have won major awards at Sundance and Jackson Hole. Two of his recent productions for GBH NOVA were nominated for Emmys: Great Human Odyssey and Transplanting Hope. A long-time collaborator with LA-based composer Darren Fung, he presents select documentaries to live audiences as orchestral performances throughout North America. Niobe’s most recent documentary is the Canada-Australian feature co-production Carbon—The Unauthorized Biography, which is airing on broadcasters around the world in 2022.