Volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, erosion, earthquakes, lightning strikes, wildfires, snowstorms and many other natural disasters can cause destruction of property and even loss of life. Understanding what causes natural disasters and discovering ways to predict them can save lives. Scientists have discovered much about natural disasters, but they still have a lot more to learn, especially when it comes to predicting disasters such as volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Plate tectonics is the study of the movement of large segments of the earth's crust. As these slowly moving plates pass each other or collide, enormous pressure builds up, which can be released all at once. When this happens, we experience an earthquake.
Simulate the collision of two plates. Make pudding and fill an 8-inch by 4-inch cake pan. As the pudding cools, a crust will form on top. This simulates the earth's crust, which also floats on molten material. After the crust has formed and slightly thickened, separate the pudding's sides from the pan by cutting around the outside edges with a knife. Make a cut across the middle of the pan to form two simulated tectonic plates. Place two wide-blade spatulas at opposite ends of the pan. Gently push inward toward the middle cut, simulating two plates colliding. Observe what happens to the plates at the point where they collide. Note any effect the collision also has on the rest of the top crust areas as well as at the point of collision.
Lightning, an electrical discharge in the atmosphere, occurs when a cloud has an electrical charge and an object on the ground (such as a tall tree or building) has an opposite charge. If the electrical potential between them is large enough, a bolt of lightning is discharged. Lightning can also occur between two clouds that have opposite charges.
Detect an approaching lighting storm. Tune an AM radio to a spot on the dial where there are no local stations. Listen for any loud cracks and pops in the sound. These are caused by electrical discharges in the atmosphere, which affect "amplitude modulated" (AM) radio waves. If there's no lightning in the area, you will only hear soft background "white noise."
Erosion And Natural Deposits
Hurricanes and floods cause massive amounts of water to flow swiftly. Water can transport sand particles from one area to another.
Study patterns of erosion. Place a cinder block at the waterline on a beach. As water hits this obstacle, it must flow around it. Discover whether sand builds up in front of the block, as water stops and sand particles drop out, or if the sand erodes in front of the block as the water speeds up to flow around the obstacle.
Natural Protection Against Forest Fires
The forest floor is covered with "litter," dry leaves, evergreen needles, twigs and other natural materials. Litter that accumulates over the years can be several inches thick. Forest fires can be started naturally by lightning, and can burn uncontrollably, often because the forest floor litter burns easily. Rain can help prevent forest fires by keeping the ground litter moist.
Discover whether either type of ground litter holds moisture longer, a cover of leaves or a cover of pine needles. Fill a shoebox with dry pine needles. Fill another shoebox with dry leaves. Pour a half-gallon of water into each box, and place them in a sunny window. Every few hours, check for moisture by sticking your finger down into the litter. If one holds moisture longer than the other, this would indicate that this type of ground litter provides better natural protection against forest fires.
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