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Science Nation: Want to Understand Drought? Follow the Water!

3 minutes

(Describer) Streams of light collide to create a globe filled with water. Title: Science Nation.

(Describer) Water churns down rapids in a river.

(male narrator) Water, a precious resource for sure. One many take for granted until there's too little or too much.

(Describer) A man steps to a tower.

Scientists and engineers have positioned instruments at the Susquehanna Shale Hills Observatory at Penn State to find out more about the water cycle. It's one of six critical zone observatories.

(Describer) Chris Duffy:

What we're trying to do is build experimental test beds across the United States. Actually, we're also working with Europeans to understand the cycle of water in all the details.

(narrator) With support from the National Science Foundation, environmental engineer Chris Duffy and his team are focused on learning everything about the Shale Hills Watershed.

(Duffy) We use things like laser precipitation monitors. They're infrared lasers that measure droplets. It tells us the rainfall type, whether it's rain or snow or sleet.

(narrator) Some of it evaporates.

(Describer) Ken Davis:

Any water vapor leaving the watershed going into atmosphere is captured by sensors. When you're working with trees,

(Describer) David Eissenstat:

it's hard to measure

(Describer) He holds up a tarp.

all the water being transpired.

(Describer) Under the tarp...

(narrator) This sap flow sensor measures the rate water moves through trees. It's no surprise that plants are huge water guzzlers.

(Katie Gaines) We're climbing trees to collect branch samples.

(narrator) They measure how deep roots of plants and trees go.

(Describer) A woman climbs a tree.

(Gaines) We climb up and get branch samples and put them in vials. We take them to the lab, extract the water, and discover where the water in the tree actually came from.

(Describer) Katie Gaines:

(narrator) Geology plays a big part. The soil and rock type determines how much water seeps into an underground basin.

(Kamini Singha) While moving, does it clean itself or pick up material?

(Describer) Kamini Singha:

Understanding water's behavior in the subsurfaces is important to us.

(narrator) Duffy says, from the big picture, that's increasingly critical because of climate change.

(Duffy) Global change and global warming is accelerating climate effects and accelerating rainfall in some areas and accelerating drought impacts in others.

(narrator) A key goal is to help planters better predict the impact of floods and droughts on water supplies. What they're discovering at Shale Hills has really whet their appetite to know more.

(Describer) The globe turns.

For Science Nation, I'm Miles O'Brien.

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Already parts of the world suffer from lack of water, and with increasing demand it's expected to get worse. To better understand and predict drought, thirty universities are collaborating in a multidisciplinary effort called the Shale Hills Project. Among the studies, is field research following the life cycle of water along the Susquehanna River Basin. With support from the National Science Foundation, civil engineer Chris Duffy and his team at Penn State are tracking several aspects of rainfall to better understand the relationship between the flow of water, drought prone areas, and urban populations.

Media Details

Runtime: 3 minutes

Science Nation
Episode 1
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 2
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 3
4 minutes
Grade Level: 7 - 12
Science Nation
Episode 4
4 minutes
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Episode 5
4 minutes
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Science Nation
Episode 6
4 minutes
Grade Level: 9 - 12
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Episode 7
4 minutes
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Episode 8
4 minutes
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Science Nation
Episode 9
4 minutes
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Episode 10
4 minutes
Grade Level: 10 - 12