Triggered by Humans

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Salton Sea — March 21st, 2010
by Mark Marabella, Executive Producer

Today I’m on location out here at the Salton Sea with Dr. Michael Manga and his graduate assistant, Max Rudolph. We’ve taken a long drive from San Diego to what seems like the edges of civilization. It’s literally a desert out here. Nothing around at all—no trees, no grass, no businesses, nothing.

Michael’s research involves finding out how the seismic pressure underground manifests itself above the surface, and today we’re out here seeing that in the form of mud bubbles. Michael and Max have set up shop on the San Andreas Fault, and are measuring the pressure pushing the bubbles up through the Earth’s surface. They’re also taking samples of the mud for later analysis back at their lab in Berkeley.

The bubbles rise up and burst similar to the way a carbonated beverage operates. When you open a can of soda, the pressure releases (causing that familiar sound) in the same way that the underground pressure causes the mud bubble to pop. That popping is what Michael’s most interested in, and why later today we’ll talk about an extreme version of this mudflow in Sidoarjo, Indonesia.

Hoover Dam / Lake Mead — March 24th, 2010
by Mark Marabella, Executive Producer

Today I’m outside Las Vegas stopping at two stunning locations—the Hoover Dam and Lake Mead. We’re here with Dr. Shemin Ge, who’s going to discuss how the creation of a reservoir causes seismic activity underground. Her research is mostly geology-based, and she’s going to explain how liquid seeping down through the Earth’s crust causes the plates to shift against each other more easily.

The staff at the Hoover Dam is fantastic—we opened the day by getting some great beauty shots of the dam, and then the staff took us inside to see the inner workings of the intake towers and the spillout bays. Absolutely amazing stuff. The amount of work that went into building the dam is astounding. There are so many complex inner workings—everything was meticulously planned out when it was originally built. The strangest part is that the dam truly doesn’t need a staff to function—it does all the work of converting the current into hydroelectric energy without the help of humans. Sounds like the dam will be on this planet long after humans are.

Lake Mead won’t be here that long, but it’s still a breathtaking sight. The water’s beautiful, and the man-made beaches are very similar to what you’d find on the eastern or western shores. Though, in recent years, we’ve seen the water level decrease, Mead still remains a very popular vacation destination for people who want to spend a day away from the bright lights of Vegas.

Vortech Wind Tunnel, Texas Tech University — March 26th, 2010
by Mark Marabella, Executive Producer

Today I really got to see something amazing. At the Vortech Center at Texas Tech University, two scientists are literally creating something out of nothing. In their efforts to understand tornadoes, Dr. Darryl James and Dr. Chris Weiss are using the equipment at Vortech to simulate tornadoes. They’ve also created small buildings to see at what forces tornadoes will start to uproot buildings and cause massive destruction. The most fascinating part is that they’ve built a vault underneath the simulator where one can look up through the glass into the simulator to see how the tornado forms. They’re most interested in how tornadoes interact with the earth’s surface—and the structures we inhabit.

We actually took a few photos where Darryl and Chris stood inside the simulator, next to the created tornado. They were dwarfed by it, as the tornado reached over 20 feet high. Afterward, they were also a bit wind-blown, as the tornado whips at up to 40 miles per hour.

Fortunately, they were more than happy to stand in it, and we got some great shots of them as well.

Video Preview: “Urban Tornadoes” — Did urban sprawl of our own making cause a sudden tornado in Atlanta?

Edgar Mine, School of the Mines — March 28th, 2010
by Mark Marabella, Executive Producer

Today I’m on location at the School of the Mines out in Colorado. It’s actually a functioning educational facility where students are taught all the ins and outs of mining engineering. Not only do the students get classroom instruction, but they get hands-on instruction down in the Edgar mine underneath the institution.

Everybody at the mine was great. The took us underground and showed us how they set explosives in the walls of the mine to the create new paths or widen paths they already have. They also showed us the massive equipment they use for drilling into the rock and inserting water to lubricate the steel bit that cuts into the rock. They showed us how the detonation makes mineral extraction much, much easier.

Dr. Christian Klose also made the trip out here to explain what went wrong in the Australian mining accident in Newcastle. He explained how a lack of water extraction really contributed to the quake. As the miners make holes in the rock, water often rushes in to the replace those holes. So getting the water out is just as important as getting the desired minerals out of the mine. In the Newcastle mine, this wasn’t done properly, and Christian explained how it caused a significant amount of stress on the rock both above and below the mine.

Lawson Visualization Center, Purdue University — March 30th, 2010
by Mark Marabella, Executive Producer

I’m here today at Purdue University, discussing urban heat islands with Dr. Dev Niyogi and Dr. Daniel Aliaga. Their research has focused on the creation of these urban heat islands and their effect on the climate of several cities. We talked about these urban heat islands form and then exacerbate severe weather in cities like Atlanta. We talked about how a tornado ripped through Atlanta in 2009, causing millions of dollars of damage in the process. Dev and Daniel explained, using Indianapolis as a blueprint, how the creation of “green areas” can actually cool down the temperature of cities, depending on where they are placed. Dev, Daniel, and their graduate assistants actually created a number of simulations that provided more sustainable climates for several cities.

Dev, Daniel and the students all use the Lawson Visualization Center to make these simulations happen. Their center is filled with state-of-the-art technology, with very sophisticated computer animations being created on a daily basis. Mostly, they’re showing how, throughout the next few decades, in spite of more people moving to cities, we’ll be able to avoid the severe weather effects that are caused by the urban heat islands. The animations show how we can actually use urban planning to make our cities more green while avoiding weather-related disasters in the process. Really interesting stuff.

Taipei 101, Taiwan — February 28th, 2010
by Petr Cikhart, Director of Photography

Today I got the opportunity to shoot one of the most amazing buildings in the world. I’ve been all over the world while shooting The Amazing Race, and very few buildings make me stop in my tracks. But Taipei 101 is definitely one of them. The lobby itself is astounding. It’s an architectural feat. It truly is the jewel of Taipei. I was lucky enough to have time to shoot the building from outside, and as I tilted my camera lens up, I was floored by the actual height of the building. It absolutely dwarfs the rest of the city. Just awesome.

After I got inside, I was able to meet with the building’s architect, C.P. Wang.

He spent the whole day taking me around the building and explaining to me how everything worked. The most fascinating part was our visit to the “damper” at the very top of the building. The damper actually prevents the building from being subject to seismic activity below as well as the numerous typhoons that hit Taipei every decade. Instead of fortifying the building from the outside (which they’ve done with numerous “mega-columns”), they’ve fortified the building on the inside by creating this damper. Every time an outside force hits the building, the damper sways back and forth to offset the forces. Incredible stuff.

Empire State Building — March 19th, 2010
by Petr Cikhart, Director of Photography

Today I’m shooting Dr. Christian Klose at the Empire State Building in the heart of midtown Manhattan. Christian’s great, the crew’s great, but there’s one thing giving me problems—the light.  It’s really, really sunny. Unbelievably sunny. Which means we really can’t shoot Christian in front of the doors of the Empire State Building as planned. The reflection will simply ruin whatever shots I could get.

Luckily, our sound recordist has an office in the area, and we were able to get to the top of his building, and film Christian with the top of the Empire State Building in the background. Now, I’ve been given the opposite problem—I have too many shadows and not enough light on Christian. Luckily, our production manager was able to get his hands on a small HMI light and we were able to put just enough light on Christian.

Christian’s interview was incredibly interesting. I had no idea that the amount of pressure a building puts on the surface of the earth could cause activity underneath it. Most times, it’s proportional to the amount of earth removed, but sometimes it can increase, and makes the building and the area surrounding it more susceptible to earthquake. Really interesting stuff.

Don’t miss “Man-Made Disasters” premiering Monday, November 1st at 10P et/pt.