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Sustainability: Water

The National Science Foundation and NBC Learn explore the threats and challenges to our most vital natural resources.

Episode 1. The Water Cycle

This video uses animation, graphics and video clips to illustrate and explain each of the "flow" and "storage" processes in the Hydrologic Cycle (more commonly known as the Water Cycle): precipitation, interception, runoff, infiltration, percolation, groundwater discharge, evaporation, transpiration, evapotranspiration and condensation.

 View video (6:46 min.)

Episode 2. Baltimore's Urban Streams

Baltimore, Maryland, is a major city situated on the Chesapeake Bay--a sprawling 64,000-square-mile watershed. Currently, the Chesapeake is facing an environmental crisis due to pollutants. Scientist Claire Welty of the University of Maryland-Baltimore County is monitoring the travel times of pollutants in the urban streams in and around Baltimore. Through her research, she hopes to gain an understanding of the urban water cycle, and how municipalities can better prevent pollutants from contaminating the greater watershed.

 View video (4:03 min.)

Episode 3. Dead Trees & Dirty Water in the Rockies

The Rocky Mountains supply water to more than 60 million homes in the West, but this crucial water shed is in peril due to a tiny insect called the mountain pine beetle. Scientists Reed Maxwell of Colorado School of Mines and John Stednick of Colorado State University have teamed up to study the impact of the mountain pine beetle on water quantity and quality in the area.

 View video (4:51 min.)

Episode 4. Sierra Nevada Snow Pack and Snow Melt

Snow melt from the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada mountain range provides drinking water to about 30 percent of California's residents, irrigates key crops in the San Joaquin valley and is used to run hydroelectric power plants that supply at least 15 percent of the state's electricity. Scientists Martha Conklin and Tom Harmon of the University of California, Merced, are conducting research at the Southern Sierra Critical Zone Observatory, using wireless sensor technology to more accurately measure snow pack and snow melt so that state water managers can make better decisions on how to allocate this precious resource.

 View video (5:18 min.)

Episode 5. Nutrient Loading in Lake Erie

Part of the Earth's largest surface freshwater system, Lake Erie is a vital source of drinking water for 11 million people. Researchers Anna Michalak, Tom Bridgeman and Pete Richards are studying how farming practices and severe weather can increase the amount of fertilizer-derived nutrients in the water, which diminishes water quality and threatens the lake's ecosystem and the public's health.

 View video (5:10 min.)

Episode 6. The Ogallala Aquifer

Farmers in Kansas and other states that sit atop the Ogallala aquifer--the largest freshwater aquifer in North America--are pumping out water for crop irrigation far faster than natural seepage of rainwater can replenish the aquifer. Scientist David Hyndman from Michigan State University is helping develop a plan to better manage this vital resource for sustainable farming.

 View video (5:37 min.)

Episode 7. Los Angeles & Water Imports

The nearly 10 million people in the city and county of Los Angeles require a lot of water--most of which is imported snow melt from the eastern Sierra Nevadas and Rocky Mountains, hundreds of miles away. University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), researchers Stephanie Pincetl and Mark Gold are studying how Los Angeles can reduce its water imports and better capture, store and reuse water for a more sustainable water supply.

 View video (5:01 min.)