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When Nature Strikes - Science of Natural Hazards

The National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Geosciences has partnered with NBC Learn (the educational arm of NBC News) and the Weather Channel to produce a 10-part video series that explores the science of natural disasters and research to avert their human and economic toll. "When Nature Strikes: Science of Natural Hazards," narrated by the Weather Channel's Marshall Shepherd, spotlights the fundamental scientific research NSF funds to improve predictability and risk assessment and reduce the impact of catastrophic events.

Episode 1. On the Front Lines

Natural disasters can bring death and destruction to communities in the United States and around the world, but they can also teach us about Earth's natural processes. Teams of scientists are gathering new information about dangerous natural events, using cutting-edge methods and technology to help people understand them better.

 View video (5:34 min.)

Episode 2. Earthquakes

John Vidale and his team at the Pacific Northwest Seismic Network are monitoring ground motion across Washington State and Oregon to prepare residents for one of the most powerful natural hazards on the planet - a magnitude 9 "megathrust" earthquake.

 View video (6:01 min.)

Lava shooting upwards from a volcano

Episode 3. Volcanoes

Volcanoes are one of the most powerful natural hazards on Earth, but supervolcanoes are so large that they have the ability to alter the world's climate. Michael Manga from the University of California, Berkeley, is investigating a supervolcano that erupted hundreds of thousands of years ago, and could do so again.

 View video (5:33 min.)

surging water near coastline

Episode 4. Hurricanes

Hurricanes are one of nature's most powerful natural hazards. Jenni Evans of Pennsylvania State University and Jeff Donnelly from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution are studying how hurricanes form and what factors influence where and when they make landfall in an effort to save lives.

 View video (4:42 min.)

two people on truck bed amid rising water

Episode 5. Flash Floods

Flash floods can happen anywhere, but factors such as heavy precipitation, geography and soil conditions can put some areas at greater risk. Russ Schumacher at Colorado State University is studying these factors to make more accurate forecasts.

 View video (5:23 min.)

collapsed mountainside

Episode 6. Landslides

Landslides occur when material like debris, rock, and soil become dislodged from the earth and slide downward at speeds that can approach 100 miles per hour. David Montgomery at the University of Washington studies past and present landslides to try to understand what causes them.

 View video (5:36 min.)


Episode 7. Tornadoes

Tornadoes can form in minutes, making early and accurate warnings crucial to saving lives. Howard Bluestein at the University of Oklahoma and Adam Houston at the University of Nebraska are trying to understand why some storms produce tornadoes and others don't.

 View video (5:50 min.)

surface of the sun and solar flares

Episode 8. Space Weather

Space weather has the potential to wreak havoc on everything from satellite communications to electric power. Sarah Gibson at the National Center for Atmospheric Research is studying the behavior of the sun to help warn against a serious solar storm should it threaten Earth.

 View video (5:46 min.)

firefighter silhouetted against blazing hillside

Episode 9. Wildfires

Wildfires can burn thousands of acres, devastate communities, and sometimes even claim lives. Janice Coen at the National Center for Atmospheric Research is studying how weather and fire interact in order to develop a wildfire prediction system to forecast fire behavior.

 View video (6:12 min.)

destruction caused by tsunami

Episode 10. Tsunamis

The massive wave of a tsunami can start thousands of miles offshore, but travel quickly across the ocean and devastate coastal communities. Anne Trehu and Dan Cox of Oregon State University are studying how tsunamis form and behave in order to prepare people for their potential devastation.

 View video (5:59 min.)